John Key arriving today as NSG buzz is back

The government will once again focus on its push for India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) this week with the three-day visit of New Zealand Prime Minister John Key from Monday. Negotiators, meanwhile, are gearing up for the second round of talks with China followed by an NSG session in Vienna — expected in November.

New Zealand is among the countries led by China that have demanded a set criteria for non-signatories of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), holding up India’s membership, and the issue will be discussed when Mr. Key meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, officials said.

“We will tell New Zealand [PM Key] why membership of Nuclear Suppliers Group is important for India,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said ahead of the visit. He said India’s entry to the group was tied to its need for clean energy and climate change commitments.

However, ahead of the next round of NSG talks in Vienna to discuss the issue of India’s membership, it is clear that the membership has become a prestige issue for New Delhi. The government has attempted to extract statements of support from each of the “holdout” countries that did not back India during the June plenary in Seoul, where New Delhi’s bid failed.

“There are still four or five countries that have not budged on their stand since June, and New Zealand is among those,” a western diplomat tracking the negotiations told The Hindu, indicating that apart from China, countries such as Ireland, Austria, New Zealand and members of the ‘New Agenda for coalition’ that takes a hard line on the NPT, are still the sticking point.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought, but not received, outright declarations of support from two other members of the coalition —South Africa and Brazil — at last week’s BRICS summit in Goa.

After meeting Brazilian President Michel Temer, the India-Brazil joint statement said, “The Indian side conveyed its aspirations for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The Brazilian side indicated that it would work with India and other participating governments of the NSG in that direction.”

Earlier, during a visit to Pretoria in July, Mr. Modi had “thanked” South Africa for its support at the NSG, but South Africa made no statement on the subject, and there was no reference to the NSG during the Prime Minister’s meeting with President Zuma in the official readout at the BRICS summit.

NPT conditions

One of the reasons for the silence is that both Brazil and South Africa fought hard and domestically controversial battles to join the NSG, and could only do so after they agreed to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Therefore, they have resisted full-fledged membership for India without it signing the NPT, or a formal procedure being set. Significantly, in 2008, both Brazil and South Africa had backed India’s bid for an NSG waiver, as part of the IBSA grouping.

Much depends on meetings expected in early November at the second round of direct talks between Indian and Chinese negotiators that was announced by Mr. Modi and President Xi after their meeting in Goa. According to a senior MEA official, the meeting will take place “before the NSG meeting in November”.

Meanwhile U.S. officials have said they will make “all efforts” to resolve India’s NSG status by the end of this year, although given the U.S. election, ensuring all the fence-sitters over whom Washington has influence will vote in favour of India, maybe more difficult.

In an interview to The Hindu, U.S. Ambassador Richard Verma said of India’s NSG chances, “Sometimes in international diplomacy, these are tough slogs, but I am optimistic. I don’t quite know the date of when we will get there, but we will get there.”

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Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 9:56:37 PM |

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