Siddharth Varadarajan

“We don’t want to scuttle deal,” say NSG diplomats

Vienna: Confronted with demands for amendments, the United States told the Nuclear Suppliers Group on Friday that it was confident of coming up with a new draft waiver for India from the cartel’s export rules which would respect both the non-proliferation concerns expressed by members as well as the red lines laid down by New Delhi.

But whether Washington will really be able to conjure up a magic formula of this type would depend crucially on whether there is in fact any political slack left in the position of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the United Progressive Alliance government, hanging on as they are to power by a slender thread of parliamentary support.

Main issues

Giving an account of the main issues which saw the NSG’s two-day meeting end inconclusively here on Friday, a diplomat from a participating government told The Hindu that these revolved around the fears expressed by many in the group of not being able to do anything in the event of India reneging on the non-proliferation commitments it was making in order to get the waiver in the first place.

NSG diplomats said they were unable to understand why India would want to object to the group restating its own belief in the desirability of all countries acceding to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. “India is not a member of the NSG so any such statement of principle by us would clearly not be binding on them,” said a diplomat. At the same time, the diplomat said the NSG was aware of the sensitivity the issue had already raised in India following an earlier American attempt to incorporate this notion in the draft waiver. “I think this is one issue the NSG is likely to back away from if the U.S. comes back in September and says India will simply not agree to this,” one NSG official said.

On India’s testing moratorium, an NSG diplomat said nobody seriously expected India to sign the CTBT as a precondition for the waiver. “What needs to be looked at is how to deal with the new situation which would be created were India to test again.” Some countries wanted the NSG waiver to terminate nuclear cooperation immediately, while others wanted a more explicit consultation process going beyond that which was already envisaged in paragraph 16 of the guidelines.

The question of enrichment and reprocessing technology and equipment is also proving contentious, especially given the NSG’s failure to reach agreement among themselves about a general tightening of export rules. “We have been discussing this for years, even before the India issue came along, so some countries have suggested our ‘India decision’ postpone a waiver on ENR pending a final revision of the NSG’s guidelines on this,” an NSG country official said.

The final contentious issue at the NSG this week was whether to incorporate a ‘review’ provision in the proposed guideline waiver for India. “Some countries are suggesting having some kind of monitoring mechanism to assess the extent to which India is abiding by its non-proliferation commitments,” one diplomat said. But other countries favoured making their own national assessments on this question, rather than being tied down to an NSG-wide perception on Indian compliance.

Though virtually all of these suggestions and ideas are unlikely to find many takers in India, the U.S. delegation told the NSG they were confident of finding a compromise. “I think it also needs to be emphasised that none of the countries which raised these objections were saying, ‘No, we should not be doing this for India’,” a western European diplomat told The Hindu. “But they want some acknowledgment of the importance of their own commitment to the NPT and non-proliferation principles in general.” Asked to make a prediction about what would happen next, the diplomat said: “We know there are some demands which would effectively scuttle this deal as far as India is concerned. But I don’t think that is where anyone wants this process to end up.”

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