NSG still tricky, second meet near certain (Lead)

August 9th, 2008 - 6:32 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, Aug 9 (IANS) With some hawks in the NSG likely to prove difficult customers at its first meeting on Aug 21, India is bracing for the second meeting of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in early September, that could be decisive in swinging the remaining sceptics to support its nuclear deal with the US. “It looks like there will be a second meeting of the NSG. Some countries have strong sensitivities on nuclear non-proliferation issues and we are working to address these concerns,” a senior official, privy to the government’s nuclear diplomacy, told IANS.

“We are not into semantic quibbles. We are looking for clean exemption and we are hopeful of getting it,” the official said when asked about India’s insistence on getting clean and unconditional exemption from the NSG. India is not a member of the NSG.

He also confirmed that issues in the draft text of the exemption the US is seeking for India in the NSG have been resolved after removing a contentious paragraph about full scope safeguards which could have a bearing on India’s strategic programme. “India’s strategic programme is outside the ambit of the civil nuclear deal. The world knows our position on the NPT and CTBT,” he explained.

“But this does not ensure a smooth ride at the forthcoming NSG meeting. Some members have very strong positions and they are bound to raise them at the meeting,” the official said.

India has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) as it contends these treaties divide the world into the nuclear haves and nuclear have-nots. New Delhi has, however, committed to a voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing after it went nuclear.

The US has circulated the draft to NSG countries seeking an amendment in the guidelines of the nuclear cartel in favour of restoring global nuclear commerce with India. Germany, the current chair of the NSG, has called for a meeting of the cartel Aug 21-22 to discuss the exemption for India.

US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns will come here Aug 18, three days ahead of the NSG meeting, to exchange notes with his Indian interlocutors on the NSG process.

But with some known sceptics like Austria, Ireland, Switzerland and the Netherlands upping the ante, the NSG is proving to be more difficult than one had bargained for. New Delhi is proactively engaged with these countries to convince them about the merits of granting an exception to India over the civil nuclear deal.

That’s why it is near certain that there will be a second meeting of the NSG as some of these countries will not like to be seen by their anti-nuclear domestic constituencies to be readily acceding to India’s case.

However, India is hoping that with the US throwing its full weight behind the deal and a majority in the NSG favourably disposed towards accommodating India in the nuclear tent and global economy, the opposition will be brought around.

The language of the NSG waiver is critical for India as it does not want to be weighed down with any commitments and conditionalities outside the July 18, 2005, joint statement signed by US President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

India is also keen to avoid any reference to nuclear testing, NPT and CTBT, in the text of the waiver which will form the basis of the resumption of global nuclear trade with New Delhi.

As of now, 20 countries in the NSG are in favour of the waiver for India. Another 20 are sceptical. But despite their reluctance they might end up supporting the waiver. However, there are at least five countries - Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Netherlands and Switzerland - that are opposed to any concession for India.

After the NSG gives its nod, the US administration will present the 123 India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement to the US Congress for an up and down vote Sep 8.

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