Members' concerns delayed India's NSG chances: Rafael Grossi

India’s chances of NSG membership at Seoul were delayed after concerns raised by several members on process, outgoing NSG Chairman Rafael Grossi tells in an exclusive interview to The Hindu over telephone from Vienna.

June 27, 2016 09:47 pm | Updated September 16, 2016 04:52 pm IST - New Delhi

Ambassador Rafael Grossi, Chairman, Nuclear Suppliers Group, in New Delhi. File Photo: Sandeep Saxena

Ambassador Rafael Grossi, Chairman, Nuclear Suppliers Group, in New Delhi. File Photo: Sandeep Saxena

Ques: Where does India stand at the end of the Seoul plenary?

Amb. Grossi: The issue has been on the radar and since the last time we spoke, we did receive an application from India, which changed the situation. Before that, everything was hypothetical and everyone wondered what would happen if India or another non-NPT country applied. And then this happened, as you know India wasn’t the only country that applied. So it was clear we would have to address it. Now as chair I launched a special dialogue, which was aimed at trying to assess, which would be the point and issues that need to be addressed by the group. It was a substantive dialogue, done in preparation for the application. Then we received the applications, and I convened a meeting in Vienna to see what Participating Govts would like to say. That was inconclusive, because there was never a plan to take a decision. And then we came to Seoul. Of course I have to respect the confidentiality of the deliberations, but it is clear to all that a decision on the membership issue was not possible to be taken in Seoul, but there was a decision that the discussions must continue in one way or the other. And hence the decision of the new Chair to ask me in my capacity as Outgoing Chair, because of the channels of communication I have been able to open on this issue with all the main players, to ask me to reach out, and in his words to reach out and see what is possible in the coming months.

Ques: The Hindu had reported on your appointment as Facilitator to the Chair on this issue. Is your appointment only about India’s application, or about non-NPT members in general? Since Pakistan has applied as well.

Amb. Grossi: It is general. My mandate and exercise is wide, and I have to explore what is possible. At the plenary, many things were said, and I have to go back to each government about their stand, what they discussed and what they will agree too.

Ques: In a public comment the Chinese lead negotiator said that India had never been on the agenda, and that its membership was never discussed specifically….In fact in a statement today, Beijing has questioned your appointment for discussions as well, saying they had no knowledge of any “next steps” to be taken by the NSG, What is your comment?

Amb. Grossi: I will not comment on what the Chinese delegate or Participating government has said on my appointment. What I can say on the discussion is that there was a wide discussion, all elements were considered and Participating governments raised issues they wanted to raise.

Ques: And India was raised? I ask because the Chinese delegate made his public statement right at the NSG conference venue.

Amb. Grossi: Yes it was.

Ques: What about the next step? Can we expect a special plenary by the end of this year to discuss the non-NPT membership question?

Amb. Grossi: Well this is the prerogative of the current chair, but I suppose that there is an intention to continue the discussions we had, as recorded in the NSG statement. My work is part of that discussion. We need to have certain understanding, lest we run into a wall again. That is how I see my job now. I need to assist the Chair to get to any future discussion, soon or not so soon, with a clear understanding and a purpose. The group cannot meet again to discuss general points. What is important after this process, and the decision to bring someone to reach out to members is that the group feels a process is needed, and this is important. No matter how close or far from any individual country’s aspirations any country is, there was a widespread consensus in Seoul that we need to have a process with a serious possibility of making progress. Otherwise we will get into a circular discussion whereby what you will have is repeated frustration. We will have another plenary like this one where countries will get angry, some will say yes, some will say no, and we will reach an impasse.

Ques: You said, we don’t want to run into a wall. India issued a statement, saying One country persistently derailed the discussion on India’s membership. Can you tell us about that?

Amb. Grossi: All I can say on this is that it was clear that consensus was not possible at this time. In my role is to keep all doors open, and to talk and listen to all the members to see whether a consensus is possible. Because otherwise we will just have a repeated negative event, and this will be stressful not just for India, but for the NSG as an organization.

Ques: You said there is consensus for a process to be made for non-NPT members….Also will this process come after or before India’s membership? Was a sequence discussed by members?

Amb. Grossi: What comes now is a determination of all the options. There is a menu and a number of alternatives one could have on membership (for India). With criteria, without criteria, with a decision, or a referendum. I need to ascertain what are the possibilities and see what can be agreed on. So there is no single approach at present, but a lot of work that must be done, but at the moment, what the chair has said is “OK, faced with this situation, lets ask the man who has been handling this debate for two years to separate the bad from the good and the possible from the impossible.”

Ques: In para 3 of the NSG statement there is a commitment to the Non-proliferation Treaty as the cornerstone of the NSG. Does that signify that India may have to be prepared to sign the NPT at some point? How does one get around this?

Amb. Grossi: I think no one can dictate to India what it should do on international agreements. At the same time, the NPT is very important to NSG members. So a reiteration of the NPT point in the public statement is relevant and important. Because it tells us that whatever decision we arrive at would not run counter to the NPT’s mission principles and objectives are. Our exercise is to find what the NSG needs in order to be in a position to accept an application.

Ques: So you’re saying the NSG could accept an application from a non-NPT country like India? Has that decision been taken?

Amb. Grossi: That’s the discussion we are going to have now. Can we accept it or not, and if so how? We came to Seoul thinking that we could take a decision (on India’s membership application) there and then. Some others said that was possible, but there were many questions that had to be answered. But some others felt that there must be a prior and thorough discussion before we decide.

Ques: I know you are bound by confidentiality agreements, but India has said it is disappointed by the outcome. Is there reason to hope?

Amb. Grossi: What I can say is that there are differences in the NSG. Nothing is impossible; in 2008 people would have said the exemption for trade with India was impossible. But then it was done. Certain adaptations could be made. I’m not saying this is the case again. But perhaps it is. The fact that the group has decided to continue the discussions and appoint somebody, that is me, to do this job of discussing possibilities is significant. Otherwise we could have just dropped the ball, called the discussion off, said simply there is no consensus and we all go home. Then we would prepare for another discussion maybe only after a year. But that was not the case, so this is not insignificant.

Ques: So you say it is a positive step for India. In fact a US official was quoted saying India could become a member by the year-end. Is that possible?

Amb. Grossi: All I can say is I will not rule out anything. I will not comment on any country no matter which side they are. There is a spectrum, and the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum which I need to find. Clearly it is very important that the group is saying lets work on this, not saying this is intractable, let's give up. So I need to work on this and I count on everyone’s support.

Ques: Was there a discussion of any sort on Pakistan’s membership?

Amb. Grossi: There was a wide discussion on all issues on the table and all the applications on the table.

Ques: What does India need to do in the next few months?

Amb. Grossi: That is precisely what I need to find out. I will speak to all governments go around with my notebook to find what is acceptable, and then I don’t go back to India, I would go back to the group and then the group will decide how to continue.

Ques: And do you expect to conclude your assignment in the next few months? Reports have spoken of another special plenary in December or thereabouts..

Amb. Grossi: No there is no fixed date for that. There is a lot of speculation about it. There was an idea at the session to fix date, but then the chair decided to ask me to reach out and then come back to the group with conclusions and recommendations. A date and a meeting are easy to fix. What is difficult is to bring content to that meeting, and bring something to the table.

Ques: Finally, if I could ask, the NSG session was held a few days after North Korea’s missile test, and that reflected in the statement of the hosts at the beginning of the session. How much is the concern of the group that if one membership is accepted, than that of other non-NPT members must be accepted as well.

Amb. Grossi: Obviously one has to accept that if we take a non-NPT country, others will claim that right. Well this goes to the heart of the dilemma’ the NSG’s stand on non-proliferation: what are the rules on NPT and how you apply them. And of course it brings some concern.

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