Pakistan keeps IAEA guessing ahead of board meeting

July 31st, 2008 - 1:38 pm ICT by IANS  

By Mehru Jaffer
Vienna, July 31 (IANS) A day before the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors is scheduled to meet here to adopt a draft safeguards agreement for India, Pakistan is not saying whether it will abstain or ask for a vote when it comes up for approval. The 35-member board will meet at the agency’s headquarters on Friday to consider the draft agreement between India and the IAEA for the application of safeguards to India’s civilian nuclear facilities.

“Pakistan will abstain,” predicts a retired Pakistani diplomat.

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 would like to participate in the nuclear technology trade and enjoy similar opportunities offered to India to build its civilian nuclear facilities.

To counter objections raised by Pakistan, India briefed board members last Friday and distributed a document that addresses some safeguards concerns.

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.

Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEA director general, 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.

The India specific safeguards agreement will probably be approved by the IAEA board on Friday, with or without Pakistan, and is a key step in implementing India’s civil nuclear cooperation initiative with the US that was initialled three years ago but has faced opposition both at home and abroad.

However the deal will be operational only after being unanimously approved by the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and later by the US Congress.

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.

India said it will be disappointed if Pakistan calls for a vote, but it will not be too worried by that prospect as there is an “overwhelming” support among the other members to pass the safeguards agreement at the board meeting.

But New Delhi is keeping its fingers crossed to ensure that none of the others, particularly the 19 in the IAEA board who are also members of the NSG, come around to the Pakistani view and vote against the Indian safeguards agreement Friday.

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