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India sends safeguards agreement to IAEA Board

Siddharth Varadarajan

The agency did not restrict India from circulating the text

Government nod contradicts Pranab’s assurance that the process will begin only after trust vote

Restriction on circulating text only for IAEA

New Delhi: Contrary to External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s assurance that the process of finalising India’s safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency would begin only after the United Progressive Alliance won a vote of confidence in Parliament, the government has given the go-ahead for the draft text to be forwarded to the Agency’s Board of Governors.

In a statement issued on Wednesday evening, the IAEA Secretariat said that “at the request of the government of India,” the draft safeguards agreement had been circulated to the 35-nation Board “for its consideration.”

It added that the Chairman of the Board “is consulting with Board members to agree on a date for a meeting when the Agreement would be considered” and that the text of the draft was not public.

The Board is scheduled to meet on July 28 to discuss an unrelated matter, but an attempt could be made to make the India draft an agenda item for that meeting.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Mr. Mukherjee was asked when the government intended to send the agreement to the IAEA Board. He replied this would be done only after the government demonstrated it had majority support in the Lok Sabha.

IAEA sources in Vienna told The Hindu that although safeguards agreements normally circulated for 45 days before being taken up by the Board for approval, the Chairman — currently Chilean Ambassador Milenko E. Skoknic — was consulting with member- states to see if this process could be accelerated. “Because both the U.S. and India are pushing, this can be speeded up. But at the same time, there is concern that the agreement not be rammed down the throat of states which have reservations,” the sources said.

The IAEA sources also refuted Mr. Mukherjee’s claim that Agency rules prevented India from sharing its draft safeguards agreement with anybody it wants.

The Secretariat is obliged to follow a certain procedure for circulating documents such as a safeguards agreement to the Board of Governors, the sources said, but these procedures do not apply to the member state which is party to that agreement.

Asked pointedly whether Mr. Mukherjee was correct in saying India could not circulate the safeguards text to “third parties without going through laid down procedures of the IAEA,” a senior IAEA official said, “I don’t think this is something we could restrict India from doing.”

“As far as the Secretariat is concerned, we are not in the position of making safeguards agreements available for public distribution. We only put them up to the Board members. What each member does with them is up to it,” the official said, adding, “I don’t think India is bound by this procedure.”

In their statement announcing withdrawal of support to the United Progressive Alliance, the Left parties had cited the refusal of the government to share the safeguards text with them as a major breach of understanding.

Replying to them on Tuesday, Mr. Mukherjee had referred to the safeguards text as a “privileged document held in confidence between GOI and the IAEA Secretariat.” If the Left leaders wanted the full text, they “would have to join the government in order to access [it],” he said. In a press conference the same day, he described the safeguards agreement as a “confidential document” and claimed the IAEA’s rules stipulated that “until the text was shown to the Board it can’t be shown to others.”

The IAEA official said the rule cited by the Minister was correct. But it applied only to the IAEA Secretariat.

The IAEA Statute contains no reference to tying a member state to a set procedure for the circulation of documents. The only reference to confidentiality of information is in Article VII, which deals with the obligations of the IAEA staff. In all other documents such as safeguards agreements and Additional Protocols, the obligation to maintain confidentiality applies to the IAEA and not to the signatory state.

>Draft Safeguards Agreement with IAEA - Full TextNew !
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