Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

NSG exemption: ‘No more flexibility left in India’s position’

As opposition to the proposed waiver for India from the Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines builds up from three quarters, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will tell President George W. Bush India cannot make any more concessions.

15 August 2008
The Hindu

‘No more flexibility left in India’s position’

Siddharth Varadarajan

Manmohan to convey message to Bush on eve of NSG meeting

New Delhi: With ‘non-proliferationists’ in the United States and beyond sharpening their blue pencils in preparation for the August 21 meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, India will emphasise to the U.S. “at the highest level” that the current draft waiver from the cartel’s export rules represents the “outer limit” of its flexibility and that the imposition of any extraneous conditions will be tantamount to derailing the deal.

Given the role U.S. President George W. Bush played in resolving difficult issues during the earlier stages of the nuclear dialogue, officials here say Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to convey this message by telephone to the American leader over the next few days.

The draft waiver finalised last week by the U.S. in consultation with India more or less meets the benchmark of being “clean and unconditional” say officials. If approved by the 45-nation club of nuclear exporters, the waiver would allow member states to export nuclear material to India under international safeguards. But any dilution of its provisions, they say, would be fatal.

As it stands, the draft is under attack from three quarters. First, within the U.S. establishment itself, there are those who advocate the qualification of the waiver to bring it in line with the more stringent conditions for nuclear commerce envisaged by the Hyde Act and the 123 agreement. Second, are NSG members like New Zealand, Ireland and Austria, who still harbour deep misgivings about allowing nuclear commerce with India so long as New Delhi refuses to give up its nuclear weapons. And third are non-proliferation activists, who have finally woken up to the fact that the sequencing built into the Hyde Act makes the veto power of the U.S. Congress irrelevant since the 123 Agreement will come before it after India has already won NSG approval.

Although many NSG members aired their concerns at the International Atomic Energy Agency on August 1, New Zealand is the first to have gone public with a specific check-list of issues it intends to raise at the NSG meeting on August 21.

The New Zealand Herald of August 14 quotes Phil Goff, the country’s Minister for Disarmament, as saying Wellington was coordinating its stand with “like-minded countries” like Austria, Sweden, Netherlands and Ireland and that if its concerns were addressed, it could be persuaded to support the deal.

Among the questions Mr. Goff said he would like the NSG to take up next week were (1) Whether conditions could be built into the exemption which would terminate the waiver if India were to test a nuclear weapon, as was already the case under the Hyde Act; (2) Whether India would sign the IAEA’s Additional Protocol; (3) How to prevent transfer of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technology; (4) What would happen if the IAEA safeguards agreement India had entered into were to be terminated.

Indian officials say some of these questions have already been settled, such as India’s acceptance of an Additional Protocol. As for termination of safeguards, since the IAEA agreement itself provides for this, it is meaningless for the NSG to make it an issue. On testing, India says it is committed to its unilateral moratorium and cannot go beyond this. Some NSG members have their own laws on this but India also has agreements with NSG states that do not call for termination of exports in the event of a test.

On ENR, India says that although it has no need for technology from other states, it should not be denied the right to buy equipment and components for use under safeguards.

The Herald quoted Mr. Goff as acknowledging that the safeguarding of additional Indian reactors was a plus. “We acknowledged that there were some positive things about India’s track record — though we didn’t agree with either their testing or their possession of nuclear weapons,” he was quoted as saying.

On August 5, an influential Congressman, Howard Berman, who heads the powerful Foreign Relations Committee of the House of Representatives, wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reminding her of the assurance she gave Congress in February that the NSG decision would have to be “completely consistent with the obligations of the Hyde Act.” He then emphasised four conditions which must be included: immediate termination of all nuclear commerce by NSG states if India detonates a nuclear device, “perpetuity” safeguards for Indian civil nuclear facilities, a ban on the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technology by NSG states, and a requirement that any spent fuel originating from NSG supplied fuel be reprocessed only in a facility subject to “permanent and unconditional safeguards.”

The Bush administration is understood to have told Mr. Berman that his conditions would be taken care of once the NSG plenary meets on August 21.

But since the U.S. is at least formally committed to defending the waiver as it stands now, this means American officials are likely to fire from the shoulders of other NSG member states.

It is largely in order to pre-empt such a strategy that officials here believe Dr. Singh needs to emphasise to President Bush that his government has no room to manoeuvre.

Among the additional conditions non-proliferation activists like Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association are seeking are the mandatory return of imported nuclear fuel to NSG members in the event that New Delhi were to test a nuclear weapon.

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This entry was posted on August 15, 2008 by in Nuclear Issues.

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