Burns to visit India on NSG mission

August 7th, 2008 - 7:38 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, Aug 7 (IANS) US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns will visit India later this month to bridge differences over the draft of the waiver the US will circulate to members of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) to persuade them to lift the ban on nuclear trade with India. “Burns’ visit has been in the making for some time. He will come here soon, possibly before the NSG meeting,” official sources here said when asked whether they expected Burns to visit India next week.

“It may happen next week. No dates have been fixed so far,” the source said.

Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon has been in touch with Burns over the phone on this issue. Burns was also in Vienna late last month to muster support for the India-specific safeguards agreement which was approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Aug 1.

The 45-nation NSG is likely to meet Aug 21 to discuss a waiver for India, a de facto nuclear weapon state which has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), that will allow it to engage in nuclear trade with nuclear suppliers. Germany is the current chair of the NSG.

Burns’s visit will be significant as it will enable the two sides to fine-tune language of the draft waiver that reopens doors of global nuclear commerce for India based on the India-specific safeguards agreement. The US is planning to present the 123 bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement Sep 8 in the US Congress for its approval after the NSG changes its guidelines in favour of nuclear trade with New Delhi.

India is seeking a “clean and unconditional waiver” from the existing rules of global nuclear commerce.

The US has assured India that it will push for “clean waiver” in the NSG, but is uncomfortable with the expression “unconditional” as it may give a misleading impression to some NSG members, especially those who are known for strong non-proliferation stance.

In a telephonic conversation with reporters here from the US, Ambassador David Mulford Thursday has tried to dispel this semantic confusion. The use of the term “unconditional” was “provocative” ahead of the meeting of the NSG and amounted to an “over-simplification” of issues, Mulford said.

He underlined that the US was seeking “clean exemption” from the NSG and was not using the word “unconditional” because there are “many moving parts” in the process, including the Separation Plan, 123 agreement and India-IAEA Safeguards Agreement.

“It is somewhat a provocative word to be used,” Mulford said while hastening to add that it was his “personal view” as it could create difficulties in the process.

“We are hoping for, I use the word, clean exemption. We hope NSG will recognise and accept the moving pieces — the (123) agreement, change of (US) law and so on and gives approval to this,” the ambassador said.

The language of the NSG waiver is crucial for India as it does not want to be weighed down with any commitments and conditionalities outside the July 18, 2005 joint statement signed by US President George Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

India is also keen to avoid any reference to nuclear testing, NPT and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the text of the waiver which will form the basis of the resumption of global nuclear trade with New Delhi. New Delhi is concerned that some NSG countries, who could support India in the nuclear cartel, may want to insinuate extra conditions and references to NPT due to their own domestic compulsions.

India got a taste of this ambivalence when Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Koumura said here that while Japan backed India’s civil nuclear aspirations, it would urge India to sign the NPT and CTBT.

With some known sceptics in the NSG like Austria, Ireland and the Netherlands still unconvinced about merits of granting an exceptional status of India through a civil nuclear deal, India is keeping its fingers crossed.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Thursday indicated that the NSG process may not be exactly smooth sailing. “There are many hurdles to cross. The next stop is the NSG,” he said.

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