If this were all merely some diplomatic misunderstanding, it could be excused as being no more than a tragic mistake. Fortunately, however, much of the State Department’s desperate diplomacy to finalize the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal runs afoul of U.S. law.
Under the Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006, which President Bush signed into law last December, U.S. nuclear cooperation with New Delhi must be suspended if India resumes nuclear testing. The act also requires the Executive Branch to report on India’s nuclear activities to make sure that U.S. nuclear cooperation doesn’t end up helping India make more bombs (something forbidden by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of which the U.S. is a party). Finally, the act clearly states that a key objective of sharing nuclear technology and goods with India is to get New Delhi to join the U.S. in isolating Iran for its nuclear misbehavior, and requires the Executive Branch to report on India’s cooperation towards this end.
Congress has not yet reviewed or approved the actual text of the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperative agreement but when it does, it will be forced to examine if it complies with the Hyde Act, and precisely what India’s military and energy ties are with Iran. Congress is also likely to review New Delhi’s public support of Iran’s right to develop “peaceful nuclear energy” and its recent plea that Tehran’s nuclear transgressions not be sanctioned, as the U.S. is urging, by the United Nations Security Council.
The only question now is whether Congress and the Executive will bother to clarify these points before India itself finalizes the deal, something New Delhi is expected to do early next year, close to when Pakistan is slated to hold elections. If we are serious about reducing the nuclear threats that the current Pakistani arsenal poses, making it clear now that we intend to enforce the Hyde Act would be the sanest, most prudent, minimal thing to do to persuade Pakistan that its crash nuclear expansion is unwarranted. Certainly, doing anything less will only encourage it to press ahead, no matter who in Islamabad becomes president.
–Henry Sokolski is executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center and editor of Pakistani Nuclear Futures: Worries Beyond War (Strategic Studies Institute, forthcoming).