Vienna: A US push to lift a global ban on nuclear trade with India stalled on Saturday when a revised proposal failed to win over nations because it did not bind India to refrain from more nuclear bomb tests, diplomats said.
At stake is the survival of a controversial 2005 US-India nuclear cooperation deal, a major initiative of President George W. Bush’s administration which risks an uncertain fate if left to his successor, who will take office in January.
To launch the deal, Washington and New Delhi need a one-off waiver of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) rules against exports to India, an atomic weapons state outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which tested bombs in 1974 and 1998.
If Washington cannot secure an NSG exemption within days, the US Congress may run out of time to ratify the deal before it adjourns at the end of September for November elections.
Feverish US efforts to clinch consensus at a two-day NSG meeting on the waiver dragged proceedings well into Friday night but finally stumbled on the testing issue, forcing adjournment in Saturday’s early hours.
“No decision is possible at this time. The meeting is to resume at 11 a.m. (0900 GMT) today,” one diplomat said.
Many members of the nuclear cartel, which seeks to prevent the spread of proliferation-prone nuclear fuel and technology, welcomed an Indian pledge rejecting any nuclear arms race and reaffirming a voluntary moratorium on tests.
“Momentum” Falls Short
John Rood, acting US undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said India’s gesture had added ”positive momentum” to efforts to agree an NSG waiver.
But some in the exclusive nuclear club felt the commitment was not sufficiently binding on New Delhi.
Six NSG nations had been demanding a clause stipulating an automatic cessation of the waiver if India tested another bomb.
After India’s statement, the holdout group splintered as Norway, the Netherlands and Switzerland indicated they could accept more limited language, diplomats said.
But Ireland, Austria and New Zealand rejected amended language presented to them individually by U.S. officials on Friday evening as inadequate, several diplomats told Reuters.
They said the meeting broke down when China walked out in support of Ireland, Austria and New Zealand.
“The Americans have bullied them, including with high-level phone calls to their capitals, but they held firm because the US has showed no flexibility on testing,” said one diplomat.
“The (revised text as it stands) gives no clear consequences for India if it tests, only a special meeting if that happens and that does not commit the NSG to take action,” said another.
Decisions by the nuclear export cartel must be unanimous.
Washington says the nuclear cooperation deal with New Delhi would forge a strategic partnership with the world’s largest democracy, help India meet exploding energy demand in an environmentally friendly way and open a nuclear market worth billions of dollars for Western firms.
NSG critics fear India could use access to nuclear material markets indirectly to boost its bomb programme and drive nuclear rival and fellow NPT outsider Pakistan into another arms race.