India says no to ‘prescriptive conditions’ as Menon heads for US (Lead)

August 23rd, 2008 - 6:00 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi/Vienna/Washington, Aug 23 (IANS) As Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon heads for Washington to consult with US officials on the wordings and provisions of a fresh draft for the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG), India has made it clear that it will not accept any “prescriptive conditions” to ensure a waiver from the 45-nation grouping.The two-day NSG meeting ended in Vienna Friday without its members coming to an agreement on lifting the existing ban that can allow nuclear commerce with India.

Though most members were in favour of making the “special exemption” for India, as the foreign secretary said, some in the NSG also insisted that provisions be brought in to halt all commerce with New Delhi if it conducted any further nuclear tests.

India has announced a voluntary moratorium on further nuclear tests since May 1998. But it has not signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that prevents countries from conducting further nuclear tests.

“There has been a narrowing down of differences between the various countries. It is quite a remarkable feat that 45 different sovereign nations should decide to have one point of view over any issue,” Menon told reporters in Vienna Friday night after the NSG meeting ended.

But he added, that “concerns” of some countries remained.

The “concerns” stemmed not so much from India and its track record on non-proliferation, but from the stand of many of these countries on the nuclear issue. For some members, like Austria and New Zealand, which are going to face elections soon, the strong anti-nuclear stand among sections of their voters played a crucial role in raising these concerns at the NSG meet.

The NSG will hold another meeting on Sep 4 and 5 - the venue of which will be decided later, to find a consensus. To ensure all the 45 members of the NSG agree to it, the US has been asked to prepare a 1fresh draft.

“Participating governments exchanged views in a constructive manner and agreed to meet again in the near future to continue their deliberations,” the NSG said in a statement after the meeting in Vienna.

The foreign secretary’s visit to Washington will allow the US to work on a draft that is acceptable to both India as well as the NSG members.

Indian official sources, however, made it clear that India has always been opposed to “prescriptive” suggestions and if any attempt is made to bring them in the new draft, they will be unacceptable.

Menon, who reaches Washington Monday, will have talks with his counterpart, US Undersecretary of State William Burns, who has taken the place of Nick Burns, the Bush government’s former key negotiator on the India-US nuclear deal.

“We have kept our part of the bargain now it is up to the US to keep theirs and getting the exemption from the NSG is part of that,” sources said.

But apart from concerns about further tests by India, some of the NSG members also have reservations about sharing technologies on enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear fuel. Since some of the NSG members have been denied these technologies, they are not to keen that an outsider like India should be given these privileges.

Sources, however, pointed out that giving access to all these facilities to India was part of the Indo-US deal and therefore the onus was now on the American government to ensure the NSG gives a “clean exemption”.

But US officials are also concerned about how to get the necessary Congressional approval for the deal in the narrow time window left before the legislature adjourns for the year Sep 26.

The US enabling law, the Hyde Act, requires that Congress be in 30 days of continuous session to consider the deal.

While Joseph R. Biden, Democratic chairman of the powerful US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has vowed to push the India-US nuclear deal in the Congress “like the devil”, a few other lawmakers have served notice that they would oppose the deal if it were not in tune with the Hyde Act.

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