Siddharth Varadarajan

Some Western members are unhappy at the lack of automaticity in the agreement

“We see India as a unique case,” says one Western member

Not enough time to study Indian draft, feel some members

Vienna: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) secretariat may have deflected Pakistan’s criticisms of the Indian safeguards agreement last week by suggesting Islamabad could follow a similar approach but most members of the IAEA Board say their biggest worry in approving India’s draft would be the danger of setting a precedent for its neighbour.

These fears have been amplified by the recent remarks made by Pakistan Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, when he said “there should be no discrimination” and that “if [the IAEA wants] to give such nuclear status to India, we expect the same for Pakistan.”

“This is a safeguards agreement for India,” said a Board member from a Western country when asked about Pakistan, “and we are backing it because we see India as a unique case.” The board member said Pakistan would benefit from the Indian agreement not by seeking to copy it but because it would lead to safeguarding of nuclear facilities that are currently beyond international scrutiny.

“As this agreement gets implemented, I think you will see plenty more Indian facilities coming under safeguards and this is good for the non-proliferation regime and good for Pakistan.”

But others are less sanguine about the Indian draft not setting a precedent.

“If you ask me, the one big thing which worries everyone is that this could be a precedent for other countries to come some day before the IAEA and ask for a similar agreement, including your neighbour,” Mexican Ambassador Alejandro Diaz told The Hindu. “I think Pakistan will argue that the Secretariat should include similar provisions in any safeguards agreement it negotiates with them.”

Though the July 25 briefing held by the IAEA secretariat’s experts for IAEA members helped turn the small tide that could have built up against the Indian deal in the wake of Pakistan’s opposition, some Board members continue to have doubts about the nature of the “corrective measures” mentioned in the preamble.

A few Western members are also unhappy at the lack of automaticity in the agreement in terms of facilities coming under safeguards. “India may argue that the conditions for placing an indigenous nuclear reactor under IAEA inspections have never arrived and none of its own facilities may then come under safeguards for years,” one Western diplomat said.

In briefings the U.S. has conducted, American officials say the voluntary principle has been enshrined in the safeguards agreement as far as homegrown facilities are concerned but “India is offering its facilities for safeguards and the decision is its own.” But will have no choice about accepting safeguards on imported facilities. But some Western critics say they had been led to believe since July 2005 that India had committed to place its civilian reactors under safeguards. “I am not saying the Indians are going back on that offer. But then why have a safeguards agreement which is structured in such a way as to give them a way to back out should they so desire,” a Western diplomat said.

Every board member is aware of the fact that the safeguards agreement is being rushed through in order to meet the requirements of the American domestic political clock but few share Pakistan’s initial concern about there not being enough time to study the Indian draft. “Look, when you want to block something, you can always raise a procedural objection,” said Mr. Diaz. “May be, it would have been better to have had another 15-20 days but I think we’ve all had enough time.” He said the problem with the draft was not its technical complexity but the fact that “some of the shades of the agreement are not so nice” because India was being accorded a status not in keeping with the strict categorisations of the NPT.

More In: Today's Paper