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Washington must act at the highest political level to convince hold-out countries, say officials
3 September 2008
As NSG members mull new U.S. draft, fate of India deal hangs in balance
Vienna: The Nuclear Suppliers Group will meet here on September 4 to consider a revised American proposal to exempt India from the strict export guidelines of the 45-nation cartel. The last time the group met, the session quickly degenerated into a free-for-all with amendments and suggestions flowing thick and fast. After a high-voltage, 48-hour negotiation with India that ended Friday night, the United States believes it has produced a fresh draft that addresses most of the concerns that were raised. But, say Indian officials, its smooth passage through this week’s extraordinary plenary can only be assured if one condition is satisfied: Washington must act at the highest political level to convince hold-out countries that backing the deal is in their best interest.
India, which is not a member of the NSG, will send a high-level delegation led by Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon to Vienna to be on hand for consultations.
Asked for his assessment of the new draft, a senior official from a European country said there are “a number of changes which do reflect the objectives if not the substance of the amendments many countries had proposed.” The last time the NSG met to consider the issue, said the official, there had been a very rich discussion. “Having noted the suggestions that came up on August 21 and 22, the U.S. took it upon itself to try their hand at a second draft.” The draft was posted on the password-protected NSG intranet last Saturday but many member states only began studying the text on Monday. “I suspect many capitals are still going through it to see if the new draft more or less conforms to the fullness of our discussions last month,” he added.
The official described the NSG’s deliberations on the American proposal as “normal.” “I wouldn’t say there is anything dramatic going on … It is just like any multilateral diplomatic process that requires consensus for a decision to be reached.” Declining to identify any concerns which might have gone unaddressed in the new draft, he said it was clear the NSG was making progress. “Of course, I can’t say if this week’s meeting will be our last one on the issue … That will become clear only after we see the body language on Thursday.”
But if the NSG is unable to reach a substantive agreement on the draft by Friday, there is a serious danger of the process going off the rails.
Neither India nor the U.S. is very confident of managing a third round of negotiations with each other or the group as a whole.
The current struggle within the NSG pits a small group of countries with little or no connection to actual nuclear trade — Austria, New Zealand, Ireland — with major exporters who stand to win billions of dollars of contracts if the India waiver goes through. A decade ago, the U.S. saw great virtue in packing the suppliers cartel with countries that were peripheral to the nuclear business. But as it seeks to push through the waiver for India from the NSG requirement of full-scope safeguards, Washington is realising the pitfalls of decision-making by committee.
What to do with India is, however, not the only faultline within the NSG.
After roughly a decade and a half of fairly robust activity following the group’s landmark Warsaw plenary of 1992, the cartel has fallen on lean times. Its deliberations are secret but some indication of the NSG’s recent inability to develop a consensual agenda of action on a range of issues is provided by the almost telegraphic brevity of its last two communiqués.
Where most NSG plenary press releases since 1992 have tended to run into two or three pages, the meetings in Cape Town and Berlin in 2007 and 2008 produced just a paragraph.
Among the issues that divide the NSG are the American push for greater controls over the export of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technology and equipment, as well as the question of adherence to the Additional Protocol as a condition of supply. An April 2008 NSG meeting deadlocked over the refusal of Canada, Argentina, Brazil and South Africa to accept an American proposal that suppliers “seek from recipients an agreement to accept sensitive facilities and equipment under conditions that do not permit or enable replication.” Ottawa subsequently conceded this point at the Hokkaido Toyako G-8 summit this year but it is far from clear how the politics of this will play out in the NSG, let alone impact on the fate of the proposed India waiver.