Vienna: A consortium of nations meets in Vienna on Thursday to discuss giving India access to legal imports of nuclear fuel and technology, a decision crucial to finalizing a landmark U.S.-India deal.
The deal would reverse more than three decades of U.S. policy that has barred the sale of nuclear fuel and technology to India, a country that has not signed international nonproliferation accords and has tested nuclear weapons.
To implement it, India must strike separate agreements with the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the International Atomic Energy Agency. It then goes to Congress in Washington for approval. Earlier this month, India got the green light from the IAEA.
It appears unlikely the 45-nation group, which operates by consensus, will agree to relax its rules and approve an India-specific waiver during the secretive, two-day meeting. The exemption would apply only to India and give it access to technology and fuel normally reserved for countries that unlike New Delhi have signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and allow the full inspection of their nuclear facilities.
One diplomat, whose country is part of the group, said there could be up to three meetings before an agreement is reached.
“At the end of the day there is going to be an agreement,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. “It’s just a question of how long it’s going to take and how much cajoling will be necessary.”
Some countries are enticed by the prospect of doing more business with India and appear to back a U.S. argument that it would bring the country into the nuclear nonproliferation mainstream.
But others are concerned that exporting nuclear fuel and technology to a country that has not made a legally binding nuclear disarmament pledge could set a dangerous precedent and weaken efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and materials.
“The issue is not nuclear energy, the issue is nonproliferation,” said another diplomat. “These rules have served us well-- is this a good time to make exceptions?”
Both diplomats spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss what could happen at the closed NSG meeting on the record.
Beyond NSG countries with concerns, Iran, which is under U.N. sanctions for refusing to freeze its nuclear activities is sure to complain, arguing that India, which developed nuclear arms in secret is now being rewarded with access to atomic technology. Tehran argues that its activities are peaceful but there are international concerns its nuclear program is a cover for developing weapons.
There also appears to be some resistance to a “clean” and “unconditional” exemption for India wanted by both New Delhi and Washington.
Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association said more than a dozen countries have “concerns of one kind or another.”
In a statement made on 1 August, the Austrian foreign ministry said IAEA approval did not in any way set a precedent for an NSG decision. The Norwegian foreign ministry, stressing its reservations were not India-specific, said Oslo was “concerned about the implications to the international nonproliferation regime,” and in particular the NPT.
A Swiss foreign ministry spokesman said his country’s stance would depend on whether agreement is reached on an exemption that contains the “necessary nonproliferation guarantees.”
Some of the critical countries are pushing for a clause that would revoke NSG privileges for India if it resumed nuclear weapons testing.
India first conducted a nuclear test explosion 34 years ago after it broke out of its foreign-supplied civilian program to develop atomic arms. The NSG, currently headed by Germany, was created in response.