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Despite the orchestrated campaign of panic — according to which a delay of even a few weeks in negotiating India’s safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency will end up scuttling the entire nuclear deal — it is clear that there is no deadline or timeframe for the next steps to be completed. In other words, there is plenty of scope for the Government to take a pause, address the Left and Opposition’s concerns, and then proceed.
21 August 2007
“Delay in safeguards talks will not affect nuclear deal”
New Delhi: There is no deadline for the conclusion of a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and any delay in negotiations caused by differences between the United Progressive Alliance and the Left parties will not affect the outcome of the India-U.S. civil nuclear initiative, senior officials told The Hindu on Monday.
“Right from the start, people have tried to impose artificial timetables of one kind or another but India has never agreed to these,” said an official.
Though Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission Anil Kakodkar was scheduled to travel to the IAEA’s headquarters in Vienna next month to attend a scientific forum, no decision had been taken about whether he would enter into detailed discussions with the IAEA Secretariat on the contours of India’s proposed safeguards agreement at that time.
In the two rounds of talks between India and the IAEA that have been held so far, a broad conceptual framework has been discussed. Both sides understand that the agreement will build upon the INFCIRC 66 facility-specific safeguards agreements India has already signed for Tarapur 1 and 2, RAPP 1 and 2 and Koodankulam, with the added elements of fuel supply assurances and the right to take corrective measures in the event of a fuel disruption.
However, officials insist there is as yet no draft text, let alone an agreement that has to be presented before the IAEA’s Board of Governors before a particular date. Indeed, say the officials, India does not intend to place its draft safeguards agreement before the IAEA Board for approval until the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has altered its guidelines to allow nuclear commerce with the country and the United States Congress approves the bilateral civil nuclear agreement known as the ‘123 agreement.’
Only when both those steps have been completed will India seek the Board’s approval and follow that up with its signature.
As for the NSG, the 45-nation cartel’s next plenary session is scheduled for May 2008. Though the U.S. has said it is prepared to convene an extraordinary meeting of the NSG to approve an India-specific exception to its guidelines, there is no reason why this meeting has to be convened by October, November or any other month prior to May.
“There is no reason for anyone to panic if things are delayed or put on hold for a bit,” said an official.
“It is better for the government and Prime Minister to carry everyone along and if this takes a little time, it’s not the end of the world.” Timing becomes relevant for the Congressional vote on the 123 agreement. But once the NSG approves the deal, the U.S. legislature is unlikely to stand in the way.