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On the eve of the September 4-5 meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the message from Delhi and Washington seems to be that the issue of getting a waiver for India must be clinched this time and that the process won’t survive a third iteration…
2 September 2008
Second NSG meet is ‘last chance’ for nuclear deal
New Delhi: As members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group slowly digest the revised American proposal to grant India a waiver from the cartel’s export guidelines, Indian officials say this week’s scheduled NSG meeting will be decisive in sealing the fate of the nuclear deal with the United States one way or another.
“Both the U.S. and India are down to the wire in this,” one official told The Hindu. “For us in terms of substance, and for the Americans in terms of time.” While declining to provide any details about the draft out of deference to the NSG’s rules of confidentiality, Indian officials say the new text represents a compromise. “A genuine attempt has been made to deal with the concerns raised” the last time the 45-nation suppliers club met in Vienna on August 21-22, said an official. The changes are not cosmetic, as some nonproliferationists have charged, but the overall package is consistent with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assurances to Parliament, the officials insist. However, there is absolutely no room for India to cut any more slack, they say. “In terms of substance, this is it as far as we are concerned.”
Though the U.S. Congress has the ability to waive the mandatory 30-day period during which the ‘123 agreement’ must lie before it before being considered for approval, Indian officials say the problem for Washington is not how to manage Capitol Hill but the NSG itself. “If you can’t solve this the second time around, the dynamics of the process will completely change.”
With the danger of the entire deal unravelling, a third plenary is likely to be a non-starter for the Americans, too.
On their part, well-placed German officials told this reporter a third meeting cannot be ruled out at this stage since several countries have told Germany — this year’s chairman of the NSG — that they have not had enough time to study the new text. But even if things were to go into a third meeting, it would have to be more for getting political sanction for a text that is broadly cleared now rather than for making further changes in the draft, the officials conceded.
Reacting cautiously to media reports of a compromise formula wherein the overall non-proliferation concerns of NSG members are embodied in a statement by the chair, a diplomat from one of the European countries with strong objections last time around told The Hindu that any proposal would have to be studied first. “We have not yet seen a draft of a Chair’s Statement. I think it would be fair to say, though, that we would prefer conditionality to form part of the formal decision to exempt India from the standard NSG requirements.” Diplomatic sources from another European country said the new draft did not address all of their concerns but that consultations with “like-minded nations” were on to see whether the formal airing of these concerns through a statement could provide a way out.
Asked about media reports from Vienna quoting unnamed diplomats as predicting deadlock at the NSG again, American diplomats said efforts were under way to allay apprehensions at the “political” rather than “official” level.