India hopeful of clearing IAEA board despite Pakistani objection

July 24th, 2008 - 2:44 pm ICT by IANS  

By Pranay Sharma
New Delhi, July 24 (IANS) India is hopeful that despite Pakistan’s objection the safeguards agreement it plans to sign with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) next week will be done without more countries joining in to resist it. “The overwhelming mood in the IAEA board of governors is to support the Indian safeguards agreement,” a senior official in the external affairs ministry told the IANS Thursday.

The Indian safeguards agreement will come up for discussion and approval by the 35-member board of governors of the IAEA on Aug 1. India and Pakistan are both members of the board.

India needs to get the safeguards agreement approved by the IAEA and also an exemption from the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to allow commerce in civil nuclear energy between New Delhi and its members. Both the stages - External Affairs Ministe Pranab Mukherjee called them the passport and visa in getting the nuclear deal to the operationalisation stage - have to be cleared to get the India-US civil nuclear deal approved by the US Congress by September.

Pakistan has circulated a letter to the board members expressing concern that if the safeguards agreement is approved by the IAEA it will lead to increased Indian access to nuclear fuel and may contribute to a renewed nuclear arms race between the two South Asian neighbours.

“Pakistani response was in a way predictable, but also a little disappointing,” the senior official said.

He pointed out that traditionally safeguards agreements are not made controversial and they are usually approved without much opposition. In November 2006 when Pakistan sought a safeguards agreement for its nuclear facilities at Chashma II, which was being built with Chinese assistance, India had joined the other IAEA board members to approve it without any reservations.

“We did it even though there have been many questions about Pakistan’s proliferation track record,” the official said. He added, “We did that on a 48-hour notice and did not insist, as Pakistan now seems to be doing, for a 45-day period notice.”

South Block is still hopeful that the Pakistani objection to the Indian safeguards agreement may not lead to a voting in the 35-member board of the IAEA. Unlike the NSG where all the decisions are by consensus, the IAEA has the provision for voting, but they take place on rare occasions. The last voting at the IAEA board of governors was two years back when the members discussed the Iranian nuclear programme.

“The chances are that the others in board will be able to convince Pakistan not to go for a vote. But even if it insists on doing so, the overwhelming mood among the members is to approve the safeguards agreement without any additional conditions,” the official added.

Once the Indian safeguards agreement is approved by the IAEA board, the 45-member NSG will meet, probably within 10 days time, to bring about an India-specific exemption to its existing guidelines. India is not a member of the NSG and will have to rely on the US and others to run it through the Group to ensure that the exemption it gets comes without any additional provisions.

Nineteen of the countries are members of both the IAEA board of governors and the NSG. They are Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, UK and the US.

South Block wants to ensure that no other country in the IAEA board, particularly the 19 who are also members of the NSG, rally behind Pakistan and seek to put the Indian safeguards agreement to vote.

Ireland has traditionally been a strong votary of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and may have objections about India since it is not a signatory to the treaty.

The prime minister’s special envoy and former foreign secretary Shyam Saran was dispatched to Dublin on Wednesday morning to enlist Ireland’s support both at the IAEA board as well as at the NSG.

The Irish stand will become clearer once he returns Friday and briefs the Indian leadership about his discussions in Dublin.

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