Menon to brief IAEA board, NSG members in Vienna

July 16th, 2008 - 7:31 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, July 16 (IANS) Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon will brief the IAEA board and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) countries on the proposed India-specific safeguards pact and other aspects of the India-US civil nuclear deal in Vienna Friday. An Indian team comprising senior officials of the external affairs ministry and the department of atomic energy headed by Menon is to leave for Vienna Thursday evening for the crucial briefing aimed at garnering support for the nuclear deal, an official source told IANS.

The composition of the team has yet to be worked out, said the source.

The special briefing will coincide with the third anniversary of the July 18, 2005, civil nuclear understanding between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George Bush that seeks to reopen doors of global trade in nuclear technology and fuel in return for India placing its 14 civilian reactors under permanent safeguards.

With the 35-member International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board convening Aug 1 to consider the India-specific safeguards pact for approval, the briefing by Menon could prove to be instrumental in winning over sceptics in the UN atomic watchdog and NSG who continue to have reservations about the non-proliferation aspects of the nuclear deal.

Among the 35 members of the IAEA board, 26 are NSG countries. Other NSG countries have also been invited for the special briefing.

The approval by the IAEA board for the safeguards pact, likely Aug 1, will set the stage for its consideration by the 45-member NSG that operates by consensus. But even as the government goes through the process of pushing the nuclear deal forward, it will have to face a trust vote in parliament July 22.

The government has made it clear that it will only go ahead with the approval of the safeguards pact by the IAEA board after winning the trust vote.

The government last week unveiled the draft text of the India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA that meets three of New Delhi’s key concerns: uninterrupted fuel supply for its safeguarded reactors, strategic fuel reserve and right to take corrective action in case of disruption of fuel supply.

Several NSG countries like Austria, Ireland and Norway have expressed anxieties about granting an exemption to India, which has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), from the grouping’s guidelines and the impact it may have on the global non-proliferation architecture.

They have also aired concerns about some aspects of the proposed India-specific safeguards agreement that provide for “corrective action” in case of the disruption in supply of foreign-sourced fuel.

India has already launched a charm offensive to woo NSG countries with Menon hosting a dinner for ambassadors of 10 member countries in Delhi last week.

New Delhi is looking for “clean, unconditional exemption” from the NSG for the restoration of global civil nuclear commerce which was suspended after it conducted a “peaceful explosion” in 1974.

Under the July 18, 2005 understanding, the US is committed to getting the support of the NSG for global nuclear cooperation with India after it concludes the IAEA pact.

The last step in completing the nuclear deal entails an endorsement of the enabling 123 Agreement by the US Congress, which is expected to take place by September if the preceding two steps are completed in time.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday struck an upbeat note saying he was confident of winning the trust vote in parliament and underlined that the India-US nuclear deal will end “the era of nuclear apartheid” against the country without compromising its strategic programme or foreign policy.

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