IAEA board meeting on Indian safeguard agreement begins

August 1st, 2008 - 3:58 pm ICT by IANS  

By Mehru Jaffer
Vienna, Aug 1 (IANS) The 35-member board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began their meeting here Friday morning to discuss and approve a safeguards agreement that India plans to sign with the agency. Just before the meeting began, chairman of India’s Department of Atomic Energy Anil Kakodkar, who is part of the India delegation, told IANS: “We’re very optimistic. The meeting will go as we wanted it to. It’s not only this meeting but the entire process.”

The meeting began with a speech by IAEA Director Generela Mohammed ElBaradei. Fifteen more speakers are scheduled to address the gathering later.

Pakistan, a member of the board, had earlier made its opposition to the agreement known. But in the past week or so, many other members, including the United States, have tried to convince it to not oppose the agreement when it comes up for approval. India is also in the board of governors.

Indian officials in New Delhi and Vienna have said they are not sure what Pakistan will do at the meeting. It has three options - to go along with the rest and approve the agreement; to seek a vote and to vote against the agreement; or it may ask for a vote but abstain to record its reservations.

But South Block is confident that there is “overwhelming” support for the agreement among the board members.

Indian officials pointed out that irrespective of the Pakistani position, they expect the agreement to go through without any major hiccups at Friday’s board of governors’ meeting.

The only worry in the Indian camp is over how some of the other members of the board, particularly the 19 who are also members of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG), react during the day’s discussions. Some of them have strong positions on non-proliferation and have reservations about “concessions” being made to India.

They may not oppose the agreement but if they have serious reservations it may be reflected at the NSG meeting, likely to be held later this month.

Though the IAEA board of governors has the option to vote on an important issue, traditionally they have tried to work through consensus. The last time there was a vote in the board was two years back when the members met to discuss Iran’s controversial nuclear programme.

Safeguards agreements are usually not put to vote by the board members. This was the case for Pakistan when in November 2006 the safeguards agreement for the Chashma II nuclear plant, which is being built with Chinese help, came up for approval at the IAEA.

Once the safeguard agreement is approved by the agency, the 45-member NSG will meet to discuss a proposed waiver to its guideline to allow commerce in civilian nuclear energy between India and its members.

A meeting of the NSG is being planned for the third week of this month - Aug 21-23.

The NSG does not allow commerce in the nuclear field between its members with a country that is not a signatory to the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). India has so far not signed it as it describes the treaty as “discriminatory”. The changes in the NSG guideline are required to make an exemption for India.

A safeguards agreement with the IAEA and the waiver from NSG are essential stages that India has to cross to ensure the civil nuclear energy cooperation deal it plans to sign with the US once that gets the final nod of the American Congress by September.

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