Pakistan may abstain, not vote against Indian safeguards agreement (Lead)

July 31st, 2008 - 5:09 pm ICT by IANS  

By Mehru Jaffer and Pranay Sharma
Vienna/New Delhi, July 31 (IANS)India feels Pakistan might abstain even if it does not vote against the Indian safeguards agreement that comes up for approval by the 35-member board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna Friday. But confident of a smooth run at the IAEA board meeting, irrespective of Pakistan’s support, India has already started consulting with other countries on scheduling the next stage - the waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG). Indications are the crucial meeting of the NSG will also be held in Vienna between Aug 21 to 23.

“We are looking at a 34-0 result at tomorrow’s meeting of the IAEA board of governors,” an official of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, who did not wish to be identified, told IANS in New Delhi.

“The best-case scenario for us obviously is if there is no voting and the agreement is supported by the IAEA board unanimously,” he added.

The official, however, pointed out that though there has been intense pressure on Pakistan from the United States and others not to block the finalization of the Indian safeguards agreement, the likely scenario for Friday will be for Pakistan to abstain.

“We will be pleasantly surprised if after making its opposition to the agreement public, Pakistan does not seek a voting, even if to abstain. It may not vote against the agreement but it may still abstain to record its position,” the official added.

What might Friday is that many countries might express their views, including some of their misgivings, on certain provisions of the draft agreement. After it is debated and discussed the IAEA chair will ask the members whether they wanted a vote on it. Pakistan may then seek a vote to put on record that it had abstained and not voted for the agreement.

India has already briefed the other members of the board about the safeguards agreement it wanted to sign with the IAEA. On Wednesday, Department of Atomic Energy chairman Anil Kakodkar met the IAEA director-general Mohammed el-Baradei and discussed the proposed agreement.

But officials in pointed out that while they are confident that the “overwhelming mood” in the IAEA board was for India, the only area of worry is whether there was any meaningful opposition from other members. India’s worry is particularly over the 19 members of the board who are also in the NSG. If they oppose the safeguards agreement at the IAEA meeting, there is every chance that they may carry this position when the NSG meets.

Importantly, the 45-member NSG takes all their decision through consensus and unlike the IAEA board there is no provision for voting on a crucial issue.

India is not a member of the NSG, but its forthcoming meeting will be crucial for it since the waiver from the Group is required before the India-US agreement on civilian nuclear energy cooperation can be taken up to the US Congress for final approval.

Pakistan is a member of IAEA’s board of governors that prefers to take decisions by consensus, although it has a provision for vote by simple majority. Pakistan is not part of the NSG where decisions are taken only by consensus.

“Pakistan will abstain,” predicted a retired Pakistani diplomat in Vienna.

Earlier this month, Pakistan circulated a letter among the board members registering its opposition to the proposed safeguards agreement. It has described the agreement draft as “discriminatory and dangerous”.

It has argued that access to civilian nuclear technology should be available to countries without discrimination. Pakistan says it too would like to participate in the nuclear technology trade and enjoy similar opportunities offered to India to build its civilian nuclear facilities.

Sources close to the agency said Thursday that the agreement has been carefully negotiated by the IAEA secretariat and that it recommends it for approval. El Baradei has stated that India is a valued partner and a trusted contributor to international peace and security.

According to ElBaradei, the agreement is a milestone, timely for ongoing efforts to consolidate the non-proliferation regime, combat nuclear terrorism and strengthen nuclear safety.

Gregory L. Schulte, America’s ambassador to the IAEA, insists that it is a solid agreement and deserves full endorsement by the board on Friday.

Pakistan is a member of IAEA’s board of governors that prefers to take decisions by consensus, although it has a provision for vote by simple majority. Pakistan is not part of the NSG where decisions are taken only by consensus.

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