India’s NSG diplomacy: Sharma meets Rice, Sibal in Geneva

July 24th, 2008 - 9:41 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, July 24 (IANS) Two days after the government won the trust vote, India has scaled up its NSG diplomacy with senior envoys and ministers fanning out to key Nuclear Suppliers Group countries to win their support for India’s re-entry into the restricted world of global nuclear trade. Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma, currently in Singapore to attend the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting, Thursday met US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the sidelines of the meet.

They discussed the “next steps” for finalising the pact, an official source here said.

Rice congratulated the Indian government, which won the trust vote in the Lok Sabha, for its “deep resolve” to go ahead with the “historic” India-US civilian nuclear deal.

Sharma also met Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith Wednesday night and sought Canberra’s support in the NSG.

Smith has indicated that Australia, the world’s largest producer of uranium and a key member of the NSG, is considering its position and hinted that it may back the deal, said the source.

Fifteen of 16 countries attending the ARF meeting also happen to be members of the NSG.

Sharma will head to Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa Friday. South Africa is a former chair of the NSG.

Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal is in Geneva to lobby support of Switzerland, a member of the IAEA as well as the NSG.

“It’s too early to say anything for sure,” Sibal told IANS before leaving for Geneva. He is likely to travel to the Scandinavian countries, which are known to have strong non-proliferation sensitivities, over the weekend.

Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon Thursday morning returned from Germany, the chair of the 45-nation NSG.

Menon met German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and discussed with him different aspects of the India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA and underlined India’s desire for “clean and unconditional exemption” from the NSG guidelines.

With a tight timeline for wrapping up the nuclear deal in view of the looming US presidential elections, Menon is understood to have impressed upon his German interlocutors the need to hold a meeting of the NSG early next month.

The US, that wields enormous clout in the NSG, is planning to convene a meeting of the nuclear cartel within a week or 10 days after the IAEA decides on approving the safeguards pact at its meeting in Vienna Aug 1.

Nalin Surie, Secretary (West) in the external affairs ministry, and Hardeep Puri, secretary (economic relations), are trying to persuade east and central European countries like Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia to support the deal that both India and the US have gone to great pains to stress will eventually strengthen global non-proliferation order.

Shyam Saran, Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on the India-US nuclear deal and climate change, is currently in Dublin and is likely to return Friday.

Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to West Asia Chinmaya Gharekhan was in Algeria a couple of days ago and is likely to go to Egypt, an IAEA board member, and other West Asian countries to seek their support for the deal.

Domestic hurdles in the path of the nuclear deal were cleared Tuesday when the Manmohan Singh government won a parliament trust vote. It had been earlier reduced to a minority after the Left parties withdrew their support following differences over the nuclear deal.

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