Austria unlikely to dissent at NSG meet

August 10th, 2008 - 4:43 pm ICT by IANS  

By Mehru Jaffer
Vienna, Aug 10 (IANS) Despite its dislike of everything nuclear, Austria is expected to allow a waiver to India at the two day Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meet to be held here Aug 21 and 22. “Austria will continue to grumble till the eleventh hour but is not likely to dissent on the day,” an Austrian nuclear expert told IANS Sunday on condition of anonymity.

Many in India had feared that Austria could be one of the dissenting voices, along with a small band of other countries, to block the India-specific waiver at the NSG meet.

Germany, the current chair of the 45-nation NSG, has called an extraordinary plenary session on Aug 21 in Vienna to consider an India-specific draft circulated by the US to NSG members.

India is not a member of the NSG that in ordinary times meets annually only in May. The US is a founding member. American officials say they will continue to convince NSG members about the merits of nuclear trade with India till the final meet scheduled for early September, probably in Berlin.

“Austria will never block the NSG alone,” the expert explained, adding that Austria these days is close to the US.

Austria’s exports to the NSG are not huge.

According to Western diplomats, countries that have fuel and nuclear technology to sell are eager to lift the three-decade-old ban preventing India from nuclear trade after it tested a nuclear device in 1974.

Atomic Energy Commission chief Anil Kakodkar says that India is not a non-nuclear weapon state.

However, the guidelines used by the NSG to judge India are essentially meant for non-nuclear weapon states.

Indian officials in Vienna say that India expects the world community to treat the country for what it is — a nuclear weapons state. Indian officials here are upbeat about the NSG meetings.

“To trade with India is in the interest of everyone, not just India. There is no reason why the NSG should refuse a waiver to India when it is of benefit to its members,” the Indian official and expert in nuclear affairs told IANS.

Although the draft circulated to the NSG has not been released to the media, insiders say that the NSG rule demanding full scope safeguards has been deleted because India found the guideline “offensive”.

As far as Austria is concerned, it has to resist everything that is nuclear as it has been anti-nuclear for decades.

“Across the entire political spectrum we remain ridiculously, religiously and superstitiously anti-nuclear,” an Austrian close to the ministry of foreign affairs said.

Besides, Austria will hold snap polls Sep 28. The country is in the midst of hectic campaigning and politicians perhaps want to project a nuclear free image before a public that is passionately not just anti nuclear weapon but anti all nuclear activity.

The European Union (EU) enjoys observer status at the NSG. Nuclear energy policy differs between EU member countries like Austria and Ireland that have no active nuclear power stations.

However, France produces 78 percent of its electrical energy from nuclear reactors and within the EU as a whole nuclear energy provides 30 percent of electricity.

After the NSG gives its nod, the US administration will present the 123 India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement to the US Congress for an up and down vote Sep 8.

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