Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

Dateline Vienna: NSG hopeful of consensus but doubts remain

So the first day of the second meeting was not the disaster the nonproliferationist lobby was hoping for. Differences have narrowed, the ranks of the opponents — ever a shifting coalition — have thinned somewhat and the number of countries favouring the adoption of the waiver by consensus quickly has grown since the last NSG meeting in August. Still, things ain’t over till the fat lady sings. And the top representative of at least one of one of the six holdout countries shows no sign of bursting into song as yet…

5 September 2008
The Hindu

(In the print edition, this story was split into three parts. The urls of parts two and three can be found here and here)

NSG hopeful of consensus soon
New draft to be developed overnight to allay lingering ‘concerns’

Siddharth Varadarajan

Vienna: The Nuclear Suppliers Group ended day one of its second meeting here Thursday with diplomats saying there had been a marked narrowing of differences between member states on the American proposal to exempt India from the cartel’s requirement of full-scope safeguards as a condition for nuclear exports.

“I see no reason why, if a push is made by the big players, consensus cannot be reached by tomorrow night,” a senior diplomat from a western European country told The Hindu shortly after the special plenary session of the 45-nation group adjourned for the day. “There are issues which need working but there seems to be a good possibility of sorting these out,” he added.

According to a number of diplomats, the U.S. is expected to consult overnight with the handful of countries still holding out and then talk to the Indian side, which is also camped in Vienna, with a view to developing a new draft waiver by Friday. “The number of countries who favour this going through now is quite large, certainly more than before,” said a diplomat.

An earlier U.S. proposal was shot down at a special plenary of the NSG in Vienna on August 21 and 22, with many countries demanding the imposition of stricter conditions on India. The new draft, which was finalised by the U.S. in consultation with India on Friday night and made available to NSG members the next day, was meant to reflect those demands but several countries told The Hindu before the meeting that the changes were inadequate.

When the meeting began, Austria and Ireland raised objections to the new draft, zeroing in on the absence of any deterrent to a future Indian nuclear test.

Speaking to The Hindu earlier, a diplomat from a country which had raised strong objections before described the new draft as a “very disappointing text from the point of view of the three major issues raised last time on testing, transfer of sensitive technology and review.” The consultations formula on testing is “vague” and no attempt had been made to address the “sensitive technology” issue at all, he said, adding, “I don’t see how they expect us to accept this.”

But a diplomat from another country told this reporter that everyone in the NSG understood there could be no reference to testing in the waiver.

A diplomat at the Nuclear Suppliers Group said: “Members will not accept automaticity of termination of supplies at the NSG level either,” he said, referring to the proposal by Ireland, Austria and others that a provision similar to the Hyde Act in the U.S. be adopted by the group.

“We could and should hold consultations, but termination has to be a decision of individual governments,” he said.

The number three man in the State Department — Under Secretary of Political Affairs William Burns — is heading the U.S. delegation this time, a step-up from August when America sent the head of its non-proliferation bureau.

Speaking to the press during a recess, Mr. Burns said the NSG was “making steady progress in this process” and that its discussions had been “constructive and clearly aimed at reaching an early consensus.” But he also noted that “a number of representatives have raised important questions that need to be addressed,” an indication of continuing opposition within the group.

Full-scope safeguards means each and every nuclear facility in a country must be placed under the supervision of the IAEA, something India refuses to do since it has a nuclear weapons programme.

Indian officials were meeting with diplomats from four hold out countries – Austria, Ireland, New Zealand and Switzerland – at the time of going to press in order to see how the issue can be clinched this week itself. Indian officials say no one really favours a third meeting and that the time to settle things is now.

‘Political’ call

When they went in for the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting here on Thursday morning, the belief of diplomats from the states opposed to the text of the new India draft waiver was that this time around too the meeting would prove inconclusive and that India will have to make further compromises if it hopes to win approval for the proposed exemption.

But initial accounts from the first day’s discussions suggest a weakening of the hand of the six nations — Austria, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand and Switzerland — most firmly opposed to granting India a clean and unconditional waiver from the NSG’s export rules. “It certainly seems like nobody really wants to be seen as blocking the consensus this time,” one diplomat told The Hindu. According to a Reuters report quoting diplomats, Japan and Canada have detached themselves from the Group of Six and are now in favour of the emerging consensus.

“At the end of the day, I think the logic that is prevailing here is what your foreign secretary, Mr. [Shiv Shankar] Menon told us here last month, that NSG members had to take a political call because the proposal was really about what kind of relationship they wished to have with India,” a European diplomat said. Every one of the NSG members wanted India to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and give up nuclear weapons, he said. “But we also know that is not going to happen. So what we are trying to do is to square this very difficult circle. And we are getting there.”

In the run up to Thursday’s session, the release of the U.S. State Department letter containing a strong elaboration of the Bush administration’s approach to nuclear cooperation with India handed fresh ammunition to the waiver’s critics. “I think it is fair to say we will be quoting from bits of the letter,” one diplomat told The Hindu before the meeting. “When Washington is clear about its own benchmarks for [nuclear] trade with India, why should the NSG be asked to settle for something less?” said a diplomat from another country.

Asked whether the leaked State Department letter — with its unambiguous language on the termination of both nuclear cooperation and all fuel supply assurances in the event of an Indian nuclear test — might serve to allay fears in the NSG that Washington was being too “soft” on India, one diplomat said the letter was indeed reassuring. “I think the assurances contained in the State Department’s response are very positive,” he said. “But our concern is that they apply only to the United States. What we would like is for Russia and France to be also held to the same assurances and understandings.”

The bottom line for that diplomat’s country, and others with which it is consulting, he said, is that “we have to tie [the exemption] to the moratorium — that’s the minimum.” “If that’s not there, I can’t see us making headway,” said another diplomat.

However, these arguments failed to generate the sort of critical chorus that was on display last month within the NSG plenary. Diplomats from countries broadly supportive of India’s position say they will press for adoption of the waiver the way it stands, or at best with minor changes. “Everyone knows what India cannot accept so it is pointless to try and reach a consensus that India cannot support,” said a diplomat from a former Soviet Bloc state.

“But the main battle has to be waged by your principal partner, the U.S.”

The new draft adds more explicit language on consultations, including a reference to “acting in accordance with Paragraph 16 of the NSG guidelines” if one or more members “consider that circumstances have arisen which require consultations.”

But critics within the NSG are not satisfied. “Proposing more consultations is not enough. Because of the requirement of consensus, there is every likelihood of lack of action in the event of [a test by India] happening,” said one diplomat. “So we feel the waiver should clarify that there will be disincentives for India to testing. The consequences should be clear and upfront.”

‘Compromise’ formula

The critics are also not very pleased with the ‘compromise’ formula in which their concerns will be reflected in a chairman’s statement. “There was a version of a chairman’s statement that was circulating when it was pulled at the request of the Government of India,” one diplomat said. “But from our point of view, this is not a runner. We want an unambiguous, clear waiver in one text.”

3 comments on “Dateline Vienna: NSG hopeful of consensus but doubts remain

  1. Anonymous
    September 5, 2008

    How about Pakistan?

  2. Mahesh Z
    September 5, 2008

    I need to correct above post:Which country will provide India with enough fuel for strategic reserves <>with<> such liberal terms?

  3. Mahesh Z
    September 5, 2008

    Even if India gets NSG clearance, India can hope to freely get reactors only from France and Russia who will set liberal bilateral terms with India. Which country will provide India with enough fuel for strategic reserves with-out such liberal terms?

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This entry was posted on September 5, 2008 by in Nuclear Issues.



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