Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

Dateline Vienna: IAEA board to back India, but with ‘mixed feelings’

Countries still have concerns about Indian weapons programme but this will come in the way of approval by consensus…

1 August 2008
The Hindu

IAEA to back India, but with ‘mixed feelings’

Siddharth Varadarajan

Vienna: The Indian safeguards agreement, which the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is set to approve on Friday, will mark the first time a United Nations body recognises the reality, if not the legitimacy, of India possessing nuclear weapons.

But even as they join the consensus that has built up in Vienna, many of the 35 countries who sit on the IAEA board harbour misgivings about the agreement. They will make declarations during the August 1 meeting to clarify that they remain committed to the goal of getting India to give up its nuclear weapons.

In meetings and interviews with several members of the Board, none except Mexico was prepared to go on record about their reservations. “We will support India but we have mixed feelings,” Ambassador Alejandro Diaz of Mexico told The Hindu on Thursday.

“NPT not being taken into account”

“Of course, we are happy that India is coming forward and offering some of its nuclear facilities for safeguards by the Agency,” he said. “But at the same time, we feel the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty is not being taken into account.”

Mr. Diaz said that Mexico, as one of the earliest supporters of the NPT, would prefer India coming inside the treaty rather than remaining outside. “I know India is not happy at the fact that we are giving only half-way support for this initiative,” he said. “But this is the case with most members [of the IAEA Board],” he added.

“At the end, everyone will welcome India coming into the Agency’s arms as it were, but most will be unhappy about the fact that it will now continue to remain outside the NPT.”

The Mexican envoy said his delegation was working on a statement reflecting its national concerns and would likely read it out in the board meeting.

“I think you will see at least 30 statements on Friday,” he predicted. “It is true that that the IAEA is not the place to talk about India and the NPT but it provides the occasion. So I have told the Indian ambassador, ‘Please don’t be angry with me for saying India should follow the peaceful path and join the NPT’.”

The IAEA secretariat may have deflected Pakistan’s criticisms of the Indian safeguards agreement last week by suggesting Islamabad could follow a similar approach but most members of the IAEA Board say their biggest worry in approving India’s draft would be the danger of setting a precedent for its neighbour.

These fears have been amplified by the recent remarks made by Pakistan Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, when he said “there should be no discrimination” and that “if [the IAEA wants] to give such nuclear status to India, we expect the same for Pakistan.”

“This is a safeguards agreement for India,” said a Board member from a Western country when asked about Pakistan, “and we are backing it because we see India as a unique case.” The board member said Pakistan would benefit from the Indian agreement not by seeking to copy it but because it would lead to safeguarding of nuclear facilities that are currently beyond international scrutiny.

“As this agreement gets implemented, I think you will see plenty more Indian facilities coming under safeguards and this is good for the non-proliferation regime and good for Pakistan.”

But others are less sanguine about the Indian draft not setting a precedent.

“If you ask me, the one big thing which worries everyone is that this could be a precedent for other countries to come some day before the IAEA and ask for a similar agreement, including your neighbour,” Mexican Ambassador Alejandro Diaz told The Hindu. “I think Pakistan will argue that the Secretariat should include similar provisions in any safeguards agreement it negotiates with them.”

Though the July 25 briefing held by the IAEA secretariat’s experts for IAEA members helped turn the small tide that could have built up against the Indian deal in the wake of Pakistan’s opposition, some Board members continue to have doubts about the nature of the “corrective measures” mentioned in the preamble.

A few Western members are also unhappy at the lack of automaticity in the agreement in terms of facilities coming under safeguards. “India may argue that the conditions for placing an indigenous nuclear reactor under IAEA inspections have never arrived and none of its own facilities may then come under safeguards for years,” one Western diplomat said.

In briefings the U.S. has conducted, American officials say the voluntary principle has been enshrined in the safeguards agreement as far as homegrown facilities are concerned but “India is offering its facilities for safeguards and the decision is its own.” But will have no choice about accepting safeguards on imported facilities. But some Western critics say they had been led to believe since July 2005 that India had committed to place its civilian reactors under safeguards. “I am not saying the Indians are going back on that offer. But then why have a safeguards agreement which is structured in such a way as to give them a way to back out should they so desire,” a Western diplomat said.

Every board member is aware of the fact that the safeguards agreement is being rushed through in order to meet the requirements of the American domestic political clock but few share Pakistan’s initial concern about there not being enough time to study the Indian draft. “Look, when you want to block something, you can always raise a procedural objection,” said Mr. Diaz. “May be, it would have been better to have had another 15-20 days but I think we’ve all had enough time.” He said the problem with the draft was not its technical complexity but the fact that “some of the shades of the agreement are not so nice” because India was being accorded a status not in keeping with the strict categorisations of the NPT.

[In the print edition, this story was split into two. The URL of the second story is here.]

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This entry was posted on August 1, 2008 by in Nuclear Issues.

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