Dáil debates

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Priority Questions

International Agreements.

3:00 pm

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Question 2: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position Ireland proposes to take at the next meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group in relation to such amendment of the guidelines as would facilitate the US-India agreement on nuclear material; if his attention has been drawn to the position taken by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs on this issue; his views on this position; and the issues that have been raised to date by Ireland at meetings of the Nuclear Suppliers Group in relation to the agreement. [4494/07]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Question 4: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has discussed the US-India nuclear agreement with his counterpart in the US Administration or the Indian Government; the views of the Government on this agreement and on the way it impacts on nuclear non-proliferation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4445/07]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 4 together.

In July 2005, President Bush and Prime Minister Singh agreed to establish a new strategic partnership between their two countries. One element of this partnership was a proposed agreement on civil nuclear co-operation. In March 2006, the two leaders announced that agreement had been reached. On 9 December 2006 the US Congress adopted the Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Co-operation Act, which was subsequently signed into law by President Bush. The Act effectively gives India a waiver from current US legislation prohibiting the transfer of nuclear material and technology.

A number of further steps remain, however, before civil nuclear co-operation can commence between the US and India, including the conclusion of a formal bilateral agreement between the two countries which must also be approved by the US Congress, negotiation by India of a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, and a decision in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, NSG, to exempt India from its export guidelines. We expect the decision by the NSG will be the final step in this process.

We have been closely following developments in the US-India proposed agreement and have had useful contacts with both countries on the issue. Three separate discussions on the proposed agreement have been held at the NSG since the March 2006 announcement and Ireland has played an active role, with several other countries, in seeking to clarify a number of issues. The concerns raised have included the potential impact of the deal on the global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime established by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, NPT, the type of safeguards agreement which will eventually be agreed with the IAEA, the issue of possible future nuclear tests and whether the contentious question of enrichment and reprocessing is to be included.

In the margins of the NSG meeting last October, representatives of the Indian Government briefed NSG participants. On 18 October, I received the Prime Minister of India's special envoy on civil nuclear co-operation, Mr. Shyam Saran. In the course of our discussions I conveyed to him Ireland's deep-rooted commitment to the NPT and reiterated our disappointment that India remained outside it. While recognising India's energy needs and its great and growing economic and political importance, I stressed Ireland's concerns about the potential impact of the US-India deal on the NPT. Useful technical discussions were also held at official level. Mr. Saran also met the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs during his visit.

I am aware of the position taken by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs on this matter and have taken careful note of it. I have met with the committee to discuss this issue, most recently last November. At that time, I explained that we were carefully analysing the proposed US-India agreement in the context of Ireland's commitment to the NPT and the global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime. I indicated that the issue of whether nuclear co-operation with India would undermine its core principles and obligations would be a fundamental consideration for us. I also made clear that this is not a simple process and it is made more difficult by the fact that all the elements of the proposed agreement are not yet in place. I indicated that we are consulting like-minded countries. These consultations are ongoing.

The next NSG plenary meeting is scheduled for mid-April in Cape Town. The timing of any decision by the NSG will be determined by the pace and outcome of India's negotiations with the IAEA on safeguards and the US on the bilateral agreement. Our current sense is that these two elements are unlikely to have progressed to the extent necessary for the plenary in Cape Town to take a decision. Such a decision is likely to be delayed until a meeting of the NSG later in the year.

As to the position we will take, not all elements are yet clear and we would wish to have the fullest possible information in order to make a considered judgment when the time comes. Ultimately, our final view will depend on our assessment of the potential impact of the deal on the global non-proliferation regime, the approach taken by normally like-minded countries and the overall balance of views within the NSG.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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The Minister will agree that there is no disagreement on some matters, one of which is that the Nuclear Suppliers Group, of which Ireland and 44 other countries are members, operates by consensus. This means that to stop the agreement coming into effect Ireland need only refuse to agree to a waiver. The Minister will also agree that the IAEA is not a secretariat to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. One of Ireland's most glorious achievements at the United Nations was its sponsorship of the NPT, of which another small country, Finland, was the first signatory. Given that the Nuclear Suppliers Group will decide whether the proposed US-India agreement on nuclear material will proceed, is it not a matter of a parallel process being established which will operate alongside the non-proliferation agreement? Will the agreement not make it impossible to hold the NPT in place or, as like-minded countries, universalise it and eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons? A comparison of the number of nuclear weapons in 2007 and 1945 shows that the danger to the planet is now 1.5 million times greater than it was in 1945.

Is it not the case that India proposes to offer 14 of its 22 nuclear installations for civil nuclear energy and that a further eight installations will not be subject to inspection and are being reserved for military purposes, with the result that there would be no control over the traffic of material? Is it not also the case that the military establishment in the United States stands to gain $100 billion from the transfer of nuclear capacity to India?

I, too, met the special representative of the Prime Minister of India and, as a friend of that country, I believe it has taken the wrong road. I am glad the Minister has taken note of the views of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. He will be aware that the joint committee decided unanimously to stand by the non-proliferation treaty. Most Members take the view that Ireland should not facilitate a treaty which endangers rather than advances the universalisation of the movement towards peace.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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While I empathise with much of what the Deputy said, the strong advice I have received indicates that there is no sense in taking a position on this matter until all elements are known and on the table. A great deal of water must flow under the bridge. No other country has taken a position opposing the deal, although a number of countries have spoken in its favour.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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It is disgraceful that France and other countries have done so.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Several members of the new agenda alliance which hold similar views to Ireland on non-proliferation and disarmament have given soundings that they are in favour of the deal.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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That is not impressive.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Obviously, we have to see why and that is one of the reasons we are having discussions with them. Much remains to be done concerning this matter. Even people such as Dr. ElBaradei, the director general of the IAEA and Hans Blix have signalled they believe that while there may be negative aspects there are also positive ones. I am relating what they have said, although I am not saying so.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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I know but there are differences between them, as well.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Last September, when Dr. Blix appeared before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, he indicated his view that there did not seem to be an obstacle in the NPT to this particular deal. I am fully conscious of what the House feels about this matter but at the end of the day I must go along with the strong advice from experts in my Department who are centrally involved on a day-to-day basis. To a certain extent, Ireland is making a nuisance of itself on this deal. That was exemplified by a recent report in a German paper which stated the Irish representative on this body was asking the most pertinent questions and was trying to tease out why there are so many nuances concerning the deal. Why are some countries, which would normally be vehemently against this type of deal, coming out in favour of it?

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Has the Minister posed questions about the extent to which this deal might impact upon the existing treaty and whether it might encourage breaches of the treaty? Might it be an example to friendly or unfriendly nations to breach or ignore the treaty in view of the fact that this particular deal is in place? Following his discussions with the American and Indian authorities, has the Minister formed an opinion on the extent to which damage might be done to the NPT as a result of the deal? Does he consider that other countries may take that as an example and proceed in a manner that may not be helpful either to the NTP or to world peace?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I can go no further than what I said earlier to Deputy Michael D. Higgins. I await the response from my officials concerning their discussions at the various meetings of the NSG. They have indicated strongly to me that there is no sense in coming to an informed view as to where we stand on this matter until we have all the information and all the elements are on the table. A number of significant countries, including China, have already indicated that they have difficulties with this. So far, however, no country has come down one way or the other. It may very well be that countries will assent to the deal in such a way — by inserting so many conditions or qualifications — that it would be impossible for it to go ahead. There is a lot to play for but I assure the House that the Government is absolutely rock solid behind the principles of the NPT, which we will defend irrespective of whom it discommodes. We will defend the principles of the NPT even if it means going against this agreement.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Is it not the case that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty has been weakened by countries that have indicated support for the US-India agreement? Countries such as France have supplied others with a nuclear capacity. The weakest part of the treaty was the clause concerning the elimination of nuclear weapons because those countries which have insisted on retaining their nuclear weapons are now lining up to expand their nuclear capacity. I hope the Minister will be guided by considerations of international security rather than by any trade relations.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Absolutely. Trade does not enter into it in the slightest fashion.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Come on.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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We have made that quite clear in dealing with any queries on this. We will defend the situation from a global security viewpoint and nothing else, even if it means going against our strategic interests. A surprising number of countries are adopting unusual positions on this matter and that is one of the reasons we want to have the full facts on all aspects of it. Some people say the NPT is no longer relevant but I totally disagree.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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I agree with the Minister.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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In the 1960s, it was predicted that there would be over 20 countries with a nuclear capability but due to the NTP that is not the case. I accept there are moves in this respect by quite a number of countries, including Iran and others, but the fact is that the NTP has stood the test of time. Of course, it needs to be reviewed and we strongly support such a review mechanism, as we have said at all UN fora. This deal is yet another element of the ongoing review of the NPT. It could possibly have a significant impact on the treaty despite Dr. Blix's view, as expressed here last September, that he saw no obstacle in the NTP to this deal.