Critics step up efforts to derail n-deal

August 21st, 2008 - 11:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 21 (IANS) As the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) Thursday met in Vienna to consider lifting a ban on trade with India to facilitate its civil nuclear deal with the US, critics stepped up efforts to derail the historic pact.A US proposal to exempt India from restriction on nuclear trade “has aroused scepticism from several members of NSG”, the Washington Post said Thursday citing unnamed diplomats to suggest it was “increasingly unlikely that a deal will be reached” at the two-day Vienna meetings.

“We’ve raised questions throughout the process, particularly in relation to the implications to the non-proliferation treaty,” the Post quoted an “Irish diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivities”.

But he acknowledged “it is a very important document for the US and India” and “we are actively engaged in ongoing discussions”, the daily said.

The Post also cited diplomats to the say the US “has won over some sceptical nations by arguing that increasing India’s access to nuclear power will help ease global warming” and several undecided countries such as Canada, Japan and Australia have signalled in recent days that they will support the deal.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood has acknowledged, “A lot of people have raised questions, and many people think (the civil nuclear deal) does not fit into the non-proliferation framework. That is not our view.”

The Post article followed an op-ed piece in the New York Times Wednesday by two leading US lawmakers asking the NSG not to “loosen nuclear rules for India” on the plea that it “threatens to rapidly accelerate New Delhi’s arms race with Pakistan”.

The rivalry had been made all the more precarious by Pervez Musharraf’s resignation as Pakistani president Tuesday, wrote Edward J. Markey, co-chairman of the House Bipartisan Task Force on Non-proliferation, and Ellen O. Tauscher, chairperson of the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee.

The Arms Control Association (ACA) promptly commended the op-ed piece to the media. It had last week circulated a letter from “more than 150 non-governmental organisations and non-proliferation experts from 24 countries” asking NSG members to place “significant conditions” on India, including termination of trade if New Delhi resumed nuclear testing.

ACA also circulated another report Wednesday by “a respected nuclear journal” to suggest “conflict of interest shadows Germany”, the current NSG chair, in the cartel’s “controversial India nuclear trade decision”.

It cited ‘Platts Nuclear News Flash’ to suggest that Germany’s position on the proposal to lift global nuclear trade restrictions on India might have been influenced by a private German firm’s joint venture with the French nuclear conglomerate Areva.

Previously, Germany had been more critical of the proposal, but now, under pressure from the United States and France, Berlin has agreed to support the exemption for India, the report said.

Earlier this month, Howard L. Berman, Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice a letter saying he found it “incomprehensible” that the administration is seeking an NSG exemption for India with “few or none of the conditions” contained in the Hyde Act, the enabling US law.

He warned that a failure to include such conditions in the NSG agreement would doom consideration of the US-India deal in the current Congress.

More than the NSG decision, Indian diplomats are worried about the nuclear deal’s ratification by the US Congress, which is set to adjourn for the year on Sep 26.

If NSG fails to reach an agreement this week and leaves a decision to a second meeting probably next month, it would leave little time for final approval by Congress as the Hyde Act requires that Congress be in 30 days of continuous session to consider the deal.

But then Congress can choose to waive its rules too.

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