Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 121

The United States has reacted with strong disapproval to Russia and India’s June 21 agreement to build a nuclear power plant in southern India. (See yesterday’s Monitor) State Department spokesman James Rubin said on June 22 that the deal sends “the wrong message at the wrong time.” It undermines, he said, international efforts intended to punish New Delhi for nuclear tests it conducted last month. Rubin said that the United States would urge Russia to reconsider its decision. He also dismissed a claim by Moscow that the deal–estimated to be worth approximately US$2.6 billion–is not a violation of rules established by the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Russia is a member of the informal 31-nation group, which is governed by nonbinding rules that prohibit nuclear states from selling reactor technology to countries–like India–not placing all of their nuclear facilities under the oversight of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency.

Rubin suggested, however, that there is little the United States can do to halt the Russian-Indian deal. He also revealed that U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had appealed directly to Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov earlier, asking Moscow not to follow through with the project. That obviously unsuccessful appeal came during a June 4 meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council in Geneva at which the participants–including Russia–agreed to condemn last month’s nuclear tests by India and Pakistan.

Although he strongly criticized Russia, Rubin nevertheless cautioned against “overdramatization” of the Indian project’s potential impact in the nonproliferation area. He underlined that this “issue is not about transferring nuclear weapons or transferring weapons-grade plutonium or weapons-grade uranium.”

India already possesses a number of nuclear power plants, although they are generally smaller than commercial reactors in the West. The Indian-Russian project, therefore, is not a case where nuclear technology would be introduced to a country that did not have it previously. It differs in that regard from a deal–also strongly criticized by the United States–by which Russia is to build a nuclear power plant in Iran. (Reuter, AP, The Washington Post, June 23)