India’s nuclear isolation ends, n-deal on fast-track (Roundup)

September 6th, 2008 - 11:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Vienna/New Delhi, Sep 6 (IANS) The 45-nation nuclear cartel Saturday took a historic decision to lift a global ban on nuclear trade with India that ended 34 years of New Delhi’s isolation and set the stage for sealing its landmarck nuclear deal with the US. The India-US nuclear deal is now headed for the US Congress, which meets Sep 8 to discuss an approval for the 123 bilateral agreement that will bring it to its closure over three years ago after it was first conceptualized.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George W. Bush are expected to sign the 123 bilateral civil nuclear cooperation pact in Washington towards the end of the month.

The news of the the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) granting a waiver to India triggered waves of jubilation in the country with Manmohan Singh praising this “forward looking and momentous decision” and the US hailing the waiver as “a triumphant day for India” and an important step towards strengthening global non-proliferation.

US President George W. Bush called Manmohan Singh soon after the NSG announced its decision to give the “clean waiver” to India. Manmohan Singh thanked Bush for his role in getting India a clean waiver in the NSG and discussed the next steps to complete the historic nuclear deal.

“This is a triumphant day for India,” US ambassador to India David Mulford, one of the key US interlocutors on the nuclear deal, said in a statement New Delhi.

For External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, whose statement Friday reiterating India’s commitment to voluntary moratorium on testing and universal nuclear disarmament played a key role in persuading sceptics to back the nuclear deal, it was a moment to smile.

“This decision will open a new chapter in India’s cooperation with other countries in peaceful uses of nuclear energy,” Mukherjee said while thanking the NSG’s Big Four - the US, Britain, France and Russia - for pushing the “unique” waiver in the NSG.

The NSG’s waiver also frees India to sign bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreements with France and Russia, leading advocates of the nuclear deal, who also used their clout to win over sceptics in the nuclear cartel.

Politically, the “clean waiver” will be seen as a moral booster for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of Manmohan Singh that had been under mounting pressure from sceptics and political opponents at home on the India-US nuclear deal.

“It marks the end of India’s decades long isolation from the nuclear mainstream and of the technology denial regime. It is a recognition of India’s impeccable non-proliferation credentials and its status as a state with advanced nuclear technology,” a proud Manmohan Singh, who had staked his personal reputation on the deal, said.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left, which had opposed the deal on grounds that it will compromise India’s sovereignty, decided to hold their fire till “details of the NSG waiver” was known.

However, BJP leader and former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha said with this India had virtually forfeited its right to test nuclear weapons in which the country had invested billions.

Bush had also called up Chinese President Hu Jintao to enlist his support at the NSG meeting in Vienna Friday night.

Though government sources maintained “no major changes” were brought in the draft, it is not clear yet whether it fits with the description of a “clean waiver”.

Atomic Energy Commission chief Anil Kakodkar was quick to clarify that that India has not compromised its “legal” right to conduct nuclear tests to get crucial exemption from the nuclear cartel.

“India’s “legal” right to conduct nuclear tests has been fully preserved. We have has not made any commitment in this regard to gain the waiver from the NSG,” Kakodkar told reporters in New Delhi.

“From what we understand, it is a decision that enables full civil nuclear cooperation between India and the NSG members,” Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told reporters in Vienna soon after the NSG meeting got over.

But his cautious remarks did not dampen the spirit of the Indian contingent, many of whom had walked over neighbouring buildings, to celebrate the “historic” day.

Gulab jamuns were distributed and there were smiles and hugs all over as people thanked each other on the success.

The NSG decision came after three days of hard bargaining behind closed doors after it became clear that India will not settle for anything but a “clean waiver”.

Six countries, Austria, Ireland, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland, that had been insisting on including a provision in the draft to cut off all trade with India if it conducted another test, started relenting after Mukherjee’s statement was discussed in detail by the NSG members.

However, when the 45 members decided to take the unusual decision Friday of going for a third day to discuss the draft it became clear that a “clean waiver” was on its way for India.

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