Tomorrow, in a crucial action, the U.S. Senate will decide whether to override a presidential executive order and disapprove the sale to India of 38 tons of low-enriched uranium for use at the Tarapur Atomic Power Station. The essential issue is whether we are going to keep faith with the 111 signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, who have promised not to develop nuclear weapons and have opened all their nuclear facilities to comprehensive international inspection (so-called "fullscope" safeguards). If we are to retain our leadership in this vital area, we dare not fail the first significant test of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act, passed just two years ago with the active support of the same administration that new seekks to gut its most critical provision. The NNPA prohibits U.S. shipments of nuclear materials, after March 10, 1980, to any non-weapons state refusing to accept full-scope safeguards. India has obstinately refused to accept these international controls and has expressly proclaimed its intention of conducting further nuclear explosions whenever it deems them to be in its national interest.

In 1974, using American-supplied heavy water and a Canadian reactor, India detonated an atomic explosion and thus became the first nation to divert civilian nuclear materials to potential weapons use. Though the State Department now claims the 1974 test violated no commitments, a diplomatic note, recently declassified at my request and delivered to India four years before the atomic test, unequivocally declares that the use of U.S. heavy water for nuclear explosions would be "a contravention of the terms under which the American materials wre made available." Since the 1974 explosion, India has developed both an intermediate-range missile capability and an indegenous nuclear program that could soon enable it to produce and deliver large numbers of nuclear warheads.

In my view, permitting the uranium exports to go forward would deal a grievous blow to U.S. non-proliferation efforts around the world. First, the NPT nations that have agreed to full-scope safeguards might well question the value of their pledge if India receives nuclear asistance without a similar commitment. Second, current negotiations with non-NPT countries (Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, Israel and South Africa) on the full-scope safeguards question would be undermined if we were to continue business-as-usual with the world's first nuclear violator. Third, nuclear-supplier nations that now require or are moving toward requiring full-scope safeguards as a condition for exports might reassess their positions if the United States reverses itself on this vital issue.

In a stunning display of self-deception, the administration refuses to acknowledge the adverse impact the uranium sale would have on our nonproliferation objectives. Instead, it chooses to focus on India's claim that halting the shipments would place the United States in breach of a 1963 agreement (and subsequent fuel contract) wherein we promised, under specified conditions, to supply fuel to the Tarapur reactors until 1963. Since India has warned that any interruption of fuel supplies would free her from other clauses of the contract -- including those placing the Tarapur plant under safeguards and requiring U.S. approval before India can extract weapons-grade plutonium from the spent fuel now stored there -- the administration argues that preserving these limited nonproliferation controls requires us to continue exporting fuel.

This argument, besides leading to a policy of supply without end, ignores the fact that the contract language requires India to "comply with all applicable laws, regulations and ordinances of the United States." Therefore, according to the American Law Division of the Congressional Research Service, the United States may legally refuse to send fuel so long as India fails to satisfy the provisions of the NNPA. In any event, it is hollow to try to convert India's threat into a non-proliferation argument. Acceding to extortion rarely buys protection -- that is expecially true in this case. Whether or not India retains safeguards over spent Tarapur fuel, it still will have access to thousands of kilograms of unsafeguarded plutonium (potentially representing hundreds of bombs) that will be produced at its other nuclear facilities in the next few years.

Thus, the real Indian threat is not the removal of safeguards from Tarapur; it is the lack of safeguards at its other facilities. Does it then make sense for the United States to continue nuclear trade with a country that is so blatantly keeping a weapons option open? I submit the answer is no.

The administration also has argued that the sale is important on foreign policy grounds, since we must not aggravate U.S.-India bilateral relations in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But where is the evidence that nuclear trade has had or will have a positive impact on India foreign policy? Following the president's decision to send the fuel, India concluded a $1.6 billion arms deal with the Soviet Union, became the only nom-communist country to recognize the pro-Soviet regime in Kampuchea and signed a long-term trade agreement in Kampuchea and sighned a long-termed trade agreement with the Iran that undercuts our ability to apply pressure for the release of our hostages. Significantly, all these actions were taken after India received President Carter's assurance that he would support the pending fuel shipments. Clearly, where Indian foreign policy is concerned, Tarapur fuel is a bargining chip of dubious value.

If we wish to improve India-U.S. bilateral relations, there are other levers available to us. We are currently engaged in $2 billion worth of trade with India, are providing hundreds of millions of dollars in various forms of economic assistance and recently completed arrangements for sending India 3,700 anti-tank missiles. Our relations with India could be far more positively affected by changes in our textile import laws than by the sale of nuclear fuel.

In sum, the case for sending uranium to India rests upon weak suppositions concerning the state of India-U.S. relations, a weak legal case concerning a past nuclear supply agreement and a weakkneed fear of India threats to abrogate past contractual pledges. Obviously, whatever limited benefits might result from exporting 38 tons of fuel to India would be far outweighed by the damage such action would visit upon both America's non-proliferation goals and our perceived willingness to conduct consistent foreign and national security policies.