Vienna: India’s nuclear isolation ended on Saturday after the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) here gave the go-ahead for the Indo-US atomic deal after three days of intense negotiations and political manoeuvres.
Overcoming fierce obstacles with China, Austria, Ireland and New Zealand holding out till the last minute, the historic India-specific waiver putting behind the country’s 34 years of nuclear apartheid finally got the approval of the NSG which cleared a revised US draft by consensus.
The deal will now go to the US Congress for approval in the next few weeks before it can be operationalised.
A relieved US President George W Bush spoke to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over telephone from Washington and praised his “strong leadership” for the success at the NSG. The call came shortly after the nuclear cartel’s approval at the end of unscheduled extended discussions.
“After protracted negotiations, the NSG on Saturday adopted an exemption for nuclear exports to India,” the Austrian foreign ministry said in a statement climaxing months of lobbying by US and India to get the atomic trade embargo lifted.
The US was euphoric after the NSG decision with its acting Secretary of State for Arms Control John Rood saying the NSG waiver was a “landmark decision” and an “important moment” for strengthening the global non-proliferation regime.
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s statement on Friday that India was committed to strengthening the non-proliferation regime and maintaining a voluntary, unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing played a crucial role in bringing on board the sceptics.
Austria said that it was one of the last countries to agree only after India’s “formal declaration” on Friday standing by its non-proliferation commitments.
India faced nuclear apartheid following the 1974 Pokharan nuclear tests.
The unprecedented decision of the cartel giving exemption to India which has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was widely described a landmark step.
“There is a sense of relief. I am particularly happy that the waiver (for India) meets with international nuclear non-proliferation architecture,” Peter Launsky, Austrian foreign ministry spokesman told reporters after the negotiations went down to the wire.
China, which had on Friday night joined the sceptic countries, on Saturday did not oppose the waiver but raised some questions regarding specific issues.
Diplomats said some changes were made to the revised draft of the waiver to assuage concerns of the sceptic countries but details were not available yet.
Hectic behind the scene negotiations marked the diplomatic triumph for India in which the US played a major part by talking to the naysayers in extended late night discussions.
The four countries were initially not fully satisfied with the statement and wanted India’s latest commitment to be incorporated in the US-steered draft waiver. They also wanted inclusion of the consequences that would follow a nuclear test.
But India had been opposed to inclusion of any conditionalities which it felt would undermine its sovereign right to undertake a nuclear test. New Delhi is not a member of the NSG which takes decisions on the principle of consensus.
The breakthrough came after the US President personally intervened to lobby with allies at the nuclear group to approve the trade waiver after killer amendments cropped up.
“The US government engaged in an intense diplomatic effort,” Rood said.
Members of the NSG approached the issue in a serious manner, he said.
“Countries had particular concerns, particular historical experience” but they approached the issue with the required “constructive and cooperative” attitude, Rood added.
He appreciated the NSG members for their willingness to approach the dialogue in a manner in which “even with regard to most serious concerns, there was willingness to find a way, to reach a kind of compromise that is necessary in multilateral negotiations.”
Asked what was the main factor that led to the breakthrough, Launsky said Friday’s statement of Mukherjee had assuaged the concerns of Austria and like-minded members making a contribution in achieving the objective.
The relief is also there for Austria particularly in the Indian Government’s plan for separation of 14 power plants that will come under the inspection of the UN atomic watchdog IAEA, he said.
Austria also issued a statement saying it withdrew its objections after Mukherjee’s statement which, it said, was decisive. The US officials also contended that transferring nuclear technology to India will bring its atomic programme under closer scrutiny and boost international non-proliferation efforts.
The naysayers pushed hard for three conditionalities in the event of India conducting an atomic test before they relent. These were termination of trade, stoppage of transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technology and an annual review of the agreement.
It was the second time in two weeks that the NSG had met to try and agree on a change in its rules and was characterised by tough bargaining on both sides, with some member countries complaining of “bullying” tactics by Washington, diplomats who attended the negotiations said.
Britain said it was happy that a compromise had been reached.
“We’re very pleased that we were able to reach a compromise that everyone could live with,” British envoy Simon Smith said.
The NSG was founded after India’s 1974 atomic tests.