IAEA approval sees India-US N-deal cross major hurdle (Roundup)

August 2nd, 2008 - 12:00 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Mehru Jaffer
Vienna, Aug 1 (IANS) The landmark India-US nuclear deal passed its first global test Friday when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) unanimously approved an India-specific safeguards agreement that puts New Delhi just one step away from joining the privileged world of nuclear commerce. The next important stage will be the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting in the third week of August to decide on amending its rules to permit the resumption of nuclear commerce with India after a hiatus of over three decades. Once that happens, the nuclear deal will go to the US Congress for its final nod in September.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the IAEA vote as “an important day” for the country, saying he was delighted the atomic watchdog decided by consensus to approve the specific safeguards agreement.

In a statement in Colombo, where he will be attending the two-day SAARC summit that begins Saturday, Singh said he was “deeply appreciative of the historic significance of the milestone in our cooperation with the IAEA and the international community in peaceful uses of atomic energy.”

Anil Kakodar, who heads India’s Department of Atomic Energy, immediately hailed the IAEA pact.

“That the agreement was approved by consensus makes me very happy. It is a clean and unconditional exemption for India,” Kakodkar told IANS as he emerged from the meeting of the 35-member IAEA board.

“This is an important step for India and for the world at large. India has been a responsible country in the past and will continue to follow the philosophy of being responsible in the future,” he added.

Pakistan, a member of the IAEA board and which had made its opposition to the Indian safeguards agreement public, ultimately decided to go along with the others and opted for an unanimous decision rather than seeking a vote on the issue.

In an unusual gesture, IAEA director general Mohammed ELBaradei prejudged the mood of the board after four hours of discussion and soon after the delegations returned from the lunch recess.

Though five members, including India, Pakistan and Mexico, were yet to speak, ELBaradei asked whether anybody had objections to the India-specific safeguards agreement and no one raised their hands.

The IAEA board traditionally passes safeguards agreements unanimously. The rare occasion when there was a vote was two years ao when Iran’s controversial nuclear programme came up for discussion.

ElBaradei began the session in the morning by saying that the safeguards agreement “satisfies India’s needs while maintaining all the Agency’s legal requirements”.

Ireland, Switzerland and some other countries registered their concerns about the future of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but it was Iran which used the occasion to express its strong protest against the US and its nuclear deal with India.

Expressing serious concern, Iranian Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh said: “The double standards of the US shall undermine the credibility, integrity and universality of the NPT.”

He also took the opportunity of reminding board members how a country like Iran, which is a signatory to the NPT, was being denied access to technology to enable it pursue its peaceful nuclear programme.

But by and large, the discussions at the board meeting passed off without any acrimonious scenes.

Pakistan, which did not oppose the deal, had expressed its concern that the safeguards agreement should not be “discriminatory.” ElBaradei assured Pakistan at a post-meeting press conference that “there was no reason why Pakistan cannot benefit the same way as India” if it brought a similar safeguards agreement before the IAEA.

Within minutes of the IAEA board’s approval, the US underlined that it would work vigorously with India to get an India-specific waiver at the NSG. India is a not a member of the NSG and would have to rely on the US and some other western countries to get the 45-member group’s waiver.

“The approval today of the Indian agreement by the IAEA’s board of governors is a key step towards implementing the US-India civil nuclear cooperation initiative,” US ambassador to India David Mulford said in New Delhi.

“We will work vigorously with the government of India to obtain an India-specific exemption in the NSG and final Congressional approval,” he added.

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