Menon, Saran to arrive in Vienna before NSG meet

August 18th, 2008 - 7:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Vienna, Aug 18 (IANS) Foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon and the prime minister’s special envoy Shyam Saran will be here Wednesday, a day before the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) is scheduled to meet to consider a waiver that will open commerce in civil nuclear energy with India.Menon and Saran are likely to meet senior Austrian officials before the NSG begins its two-day meeting, Indian officials told IANS.

Austria, Ireland, New Zealand and Switzerland are among the “difficult” NSG members that are hesitant over a proposed waiver to India that will allow nuclear commerce between it and the NSG.

Menon, Saran and other senior officials have already held talks with some of these countries to enlist their support for the waiver at the NSG meeting later this week. The Indian officials will do a similar engagement to get Austria’s support.

Austria argues that the exception asked for India undermines international efforts to reach non-proliferation goals. It also feels that New Delhi has not yet adequately addressed concerns that Austria has over further nuclear tests or on other security issues.

It has been critical of US moves that will allow India to overlook international export guidelines. Besides the Austrian Green Party, the third largest political party after the socialists and conservatives that often plays the role of power broker in national politics, has been putting pressure on the government to resist US attempts to bring India out of its 34 years of nuclear isolation.

The domestic energy policies in Austria are also anti-nuclear.

The NSG includes several European Union (EU) countries that are anti-nuclear and those that feel they have little to gain by helping India to open its nuclear market.

Indian officials described India’s role at the moment as that of an ‘interested observer’.

India is not a member of the NSG and has been promoting its clean nuclear non-proliferation record privately through diplomacy and public relations.

It needs the NSG’s unanimous support to the waiver before it can buy nuclear fuel and technology from the international body that controls the world’s nuclear export. Unlike, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), all decisions in the NSG will have to be unanimous and there is no provision for a simple majority.

India is relying on the US, and other states that have most to gain from nuclear trade with India to lobby hard on the eve of the NSG meet.

The lobbyists seek a consensus as even one vote against the proposal can derail US attempts to bring India into the international nuclear trading community.

Countries with significant reactor and fuel supplies like Britain, France, Germany, Japan and Russia support a revised US draft exempting India from longstanding global nuclear trade restrictions as a non non-proliferation (NPT) state.

India has not signed the NPT which it finds “discriminatory” but does not want any conditions being attached to the proposed waiver by the NSG members. India has so far maintained a moratorium on conducting further nuclear test. But it has not yet signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

But few doubt if Austria will ultimately block the Indian waiver at the NSG meet.

“On principle, Austria understands why the US wants India to be accepted as a legitimate member of the international community of nuclear customers,” an Austrian diplomat told the IANS.

He added: “It is the transition that even Austria may one day consider from anti-nuclear to nuclear that we are finding difficult to do.”

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