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But the Americans here believe it most likely that the discussions within the Nuclear Suppliers Group will remain inconclusive this time and that another round of consultation might be necessary next month…
21 August 2008
(In the print edition of The Hindu, this story was split in twoo. The url of the second part, headlined ‘U.S. officials feel NSG decision may take two sessions’ can be found here.)
Eyes on NSG prize, India prepares for big day
Vienna: With less than 24 hours to go before the Nuclear Suppliers Group formally sits down to discuss granting India a waiver from its stringent export guidelines, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon held a series of meetings here Wednesday with diplomats from member countries to press for the speedy adoption of the draft proposal without any changes.
Though the outcome of the August 21-22 NSG session is far from certain, the most important question the NSG needs to resolve for the moment, say Indian officials, is a procedural one. Will the plenary consultation involve the line-by-line parsing of the proposed exemption, as some countries appear to want? Or will the meeting encourage participants to address the totality of the proposal allowing nuclear commerce with India, air their reservations and concerns, but not seek to delay or derail the initiative by insisting on conditions? “Certainly this is the kind of political approach we favour,” a senior Indian official told The Hindu. “Every country places on the record its views but no one blocks the decision, and at the end, the Germans, as chair, declare the text adopted.”
In late evening confabulations India, the United States, Germany, the current chair of the NSG, and Hungary and South Africa, who make up the rest of the nuclear cartel’s ‘troika,’ were trying to resolve this issue.
The NSG will convene in the morning on Thursday but adjourn at 11 a.m. so that members can attend a special briefing by Mr. Menon. “We will make our presentation, explaining our policy, restating our bottom line and answering any questions,” the foreign secretary said.
Describing Wednesday’s series meetings with a range of “friendly” countries including existing and prospective suppliers like Russia and France as well as South Africa and Brazil as “productive,” Indian officials told The Hindu the picture that was emerging on the eve of the NSG’s plenary consultation was one of quiet support for the proposal.
Though some NSG states continue to have reservations about the implications of the exception for the non-proliferation regime, Indian officials said they did not detect any strong undercurrent of opposition, or the crystallisation of dissidence around the demand for specific changes.
If the high-powered Indian delegation — Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon is accompanied by no less than six senior officials, all experts in the field of nuclear diplomacy — continues to remain hopeful of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) reaching a consensus on the deal during the two days that have been set aside for this purpose, American officials are less upbeat about the speed with which the deal can be done. “While it would be good to do this in one sitting, in all likelihood there will probably have to be a second round of discussions,” a senior U.S. official told The Hindu. The official said the separate Indian briefing — set for 11 a.m. on Thursday — will eat into the time the NSG participants would have to deliberate on the proposal. “In effect, we only have a day and half now, and that may not be enough time.”
While some Indian officials see an upside to a two-step decision — “It is easier to work the political side of this deal than dealing with technical-level players, whose attitudes tend to be more rigid,” one official said — the delegation is wary that any delay other than procedural beyond August 22 or 23 is likely to generate changes to the waiver text.
“And, at the end of the day, that is not going to be acceptable to us,” one official said.
Indeed, the American pessimism about the exemption being a one-shot affair is forcing India to ask itself whether the United States, the deal’s chief architect, is now underselling the waiver.
“We know the U.S. has been extensively consulting with a number of NSG members and probably has a sheet of paper with a bunch of conditions that it will say the others want,” said an Indian official. Some of those conditions may not necessarily be palatable to Washington, especially if they make U.S. executive authority subservient to NSG rules. “The U.S. likes to have its own rules and grant waiver authority to the President. So it will not want the NSG to adopt something which will make it mandatory for the U.S. to act in a particular way if something happens [between India and another supplier].” But in other areas where U.S. policy is clear-cut and there is no scope for any domestic carve-out, Washington will not want the NSG to adopt rules which might place its own firms at a disadvantage. “I think for them, the big fear is enrichment and reprocessing equipment,” said the official. “They have decided they will never give it to India. But if tomorrow the Russians or French throw in some ENR equipment as a sweetener for a reactor contract which U.S. suppliers won’t be able to do, they fear others will have a commercial advantage.”
Indian officials say that while the country is self-sufficient in ENR technology it would be unfair to deny equipment and components for the dedicated reprocessing plant the U.S. wants India to build in order to be able to reprocess American-origin spent fuel.