India unlikely to figure in IAEA meet next week

May 27th, 2008 - 4:00 pm ICT by admin  

By Pranay Sharma
New Delhi, May 27 (IANS) The board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting in Vienna June 2-5 will not be able to give its approval to the UN nuclear watchdog’s safeguards agreement with India since the two sides are yet to sign the document, further delaying the nuclear deal with the US. Unless the safeguards agreement is signed, India will not be able to push the nuclear deal since the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the US Congress will bring changes to their existing guidelines on the basis of this document.

“It is highly unlikely that the safeguards agreement between India and the IAEA will come up at the meeting,” a South Block source told IANS.

India has finished negotiations on the safeguards agreement with the IAEA, but it is yet to sign it. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had assured its Left allies that it would not sign the text without their approval, which remains pending even after eight rounds of discussions between them.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is the main negotiator from the government’s side, was to meet the Left leaders May 28. But the meeting was called off Monday since many members of the negotiating team expressed their inability to attend it.

The next round of negotiations is likely to be held on June 11, though the date is yet to be formally announced.

India missed another important deadline to push forward the nuclear deal when the 45-member NSG held its plenary session in Berlin May 19.

Indian leaders maintain in private the “deal is not dead”. This was the view conveyed by Indian officials to some of the members of the NSG when they met them on the sidelines of the Berlin plenary session.

“Though India is not a member of the NSG it is a common practice to meet important members of the body on the sidelines (of meetings),” the South Block sources said.

“During their interaction Indian officials clarified our stand and the rationale behind some of the provisions of the safeguards agreement with the IAEA to key NSG members like France, Germany, Russia, and Britain,” the sources added.

Notwithstanding the Indian leaders’ optimism, time is running out fast for the government to complete all formalities before the nuclear deal can be put before the US Congress for its final approval.

“If we have to do something it has to be in the next week or so,” one source said.

Even if India manages to sign the safeguards agreement in the next few days, NSG may require at least two to three weeks to re-group.

“If the NSG has to bring exemptions for India to its guidelines it has to be through consensus and all 45 members have to be present at the meeting,” the source said.

If India manages to sign the agreement with the IAEA and get the required exemptions from the NSG by the next month or early July, there is still hope that it may be able to put the 123 agreement that will allow civilian nuclear energy cooperation between New Delhi and Washington before the US Congress for its final nod.

“If the government fails to take the decision to complete all required procedures by then, the deal may be considered as good as dead,” the source explained.

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