India has sought membership of the 48-member elite nuclear exporters group the NSG since 2008, when it won a special waiver for to end nuclear sanctions. However its refusal to sign the NPT remains a stumbling block, although the Chairperson of the NSG Ambassador Rafael Grossi , who is visiting New Delhi, says a solution may be possible soon. He spoke in this exclusive interview to Diplomatic Editor Suhasini Haidar .
Give us a sense of how your meetings in New Delhi went, and where the discussion on India’s NSG membership is…
Well I am the chair of the nuclear suppliers group, elected in 2014, and re-elected for another year. In that capacity, one of the responsibilities is to coordinate the consulatations on the political issues before the group. As you know India has been particularly interested in joining the nuclear suppliers group and I am here to steer the consultations so as to bring that request to a fruition.
How long could this process take? In the past few months India has applied to other regimes like the MTCR…
This depends. There is a political issue, but also a technical aspect to it, because the group has to analyse India’s compatibility with NSG guidelines. That is a dual process, and it can go in parallel or in sequence. So there is no fixed time. In some cases it can take less than a year, in some others more. The whole question here is whether we can steer the group into taking a decision on India. The issue has been discussed.
Is India looking at a timeline…did Ms. Swaraj indicate that in your meetings with her?
Well she didn’t put it like that. Let’s just say, India is willing to join the NSG now, today if possible . It has all the elements in place for membership. There have been some deliberations already, and I am trying to make the process more dynamic. The magnitude of India’s civil nuclear programme makes it one of the most dynamic countries in the world. It is developing, building nuclear power plants. All this activity will translate into more trade.
India has all elements in place, as you said. It has concluded agreements with the IAEA, as well as US, Canada and others. It hopes to conclude with Australia and make progress with Japan. What is holding it back from the NSG membership?
Within the group there are those who believe the fact that India is not a signatory to the NPT (non proliferation treaty). So the key to this matter is to see whether the group can find a solution. That is the challenge,
Is there a broad consensus within the NSG there, or is the NSG deeply divided?
I wouldn’t say it is divided. I don’t think there is a single member of the NSG that is against India. Most if not all of them have excellent relations with India. But this has to do with the non proliferation issue as a whole. The group could introduce a solution to benefit India, but there are other non-NPT countries that have aspirations.
Would the introduction of India be a negation of the NPT all together? Especially since the NSG was set up in reaction to India’s 1974 nuclear tests.
I haven’t heard anyone say that, but some are putting the question that bringing India in would weaken the non-proliferation regime. Others say it is better to bring India inside the tent rather than keep it out.
Does the world still need the NPT, or is it outdated?
That’s a big question…I do believe it needs the NPT and also a stronger non proliferation regime. We need an interlocking system of agreements that would allow all of us to work in nuclear trade. This is not like making ice-cream. India is an active trader, and a responsible one too…but we have to make sure all members are not contributing to destabilization somewhere else.
Have you asked India to sign the NPT?
No, my mandate is for the 48 countries of the NSG. We have a good dialogue with India, and we compare India’s institutionality in this areas to reconcile with the NSG’s parameters.
You said no one country is against India…are reports that China has tried to block India’s entry incorrect?
Those are not correct. What we have is an ongoing discussion. No one has blocked anything. The discussions are open and constructive.
What about reports that China proposes to support Pakistan’s membership to the NSG as well?
That is for China to say. What I can say is that I need all the countries to help me with this dialogue. Nobody disputes that India is a key, major player in the nuclear scenario, hence there is a recognition that some formula must be found for India (to become a member) and I think it is possible.
Would the formula for India also allow for the other non-NPT countries like Pakistan and Israel to be included?
Everything is possible, if there is a will to have political arrangements. I myself worked at the OPCW, when we were negotiation the CWC an arrangement was found so that everyone was included. It is not impossible to find solutions. The big question is how to reconcile the views. Consensus is not a zero sum game. And since you mentioned other non-NPT countries, I would say that we need to find a formula that is applicable to all. It would not be sustainable for us to go for a tailor made solution that is India-specific. The group may wish to go for that, but my diplomatic intuition is we need a broader solution that is applicable to all.
Given that all members of the NSG have to agree on India’s membership, how would you characterize the support for India within the NSG?
I would say that since we operate on the basis of consensus, not votes, it would be difficult to say how many are in favour of India now and how many are not. What I would say is that there is a growing recognition that given the role and weight of India in global affairs, this issue must be addressed and solved sooner rather than later. The NSG has to put itself in a decision making mode, and not addressing the problem is bad politics. This is an important issue. We care about non-proliferation, and India is doing more and more, so the NSG must factor this in.
How soon could all this play out?
I am conducting consultations now to see if we can move into a decisive phase. If I said anymore I might endanger the consultations. I have to speak to all NSG members first, and see what they want. If there are issues, they must be confronted, and if the group wants India to do anything specifically for the membership, then we must convey it. This circular debate is bad for everybody.