18 August 2008

India may make policy statement at crucial NSG meeting in Vienna

M.K. Narayanan will chair a high-level meeting on Monday to decide on India's strategy for the Vienna meetings. The Indian team will hold a meeting with the NSG troika on August 20 but to brief or not brief the plenary session is the big question...

18 August 2008
The Hindu

India may make policy statement at crucial NSG meeting in Vienna

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: With less than four days to go before the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meets to discuss granting India an exemption from its restrictive export rules, the government is still weighing the pros and cons of directly presenting its case before a plenary session of the 45-nation cartel.

On Monday, National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan will chair a high-level meeting to decide on what strategy India should follow in Vienna, where the NSG will convene on August 21 and 22.

With the quiet encouragement of the United States, the NSG’s current chair, Germany, has asked India to take the floor at the NSG meeting on the morning of August 21 to brief its members about the country’s non-proliferation commitments and policies.

New Delhi has informally conveyed its assent but is not enthusiastic. There are two reasons for this, senior officials told The Hindu. First, the NSG is not extending or offering membership to India and, as a matter of principle, the country would like to participate in the group’s meetings only as a full-fledged member and not as an observer or special invitee. Second, any briefing to the plenary session is bound to lead to questions and requests from participating governments for clarifications about Indian policy and the language of the proposed NSG waiver. “Before we know it, 45 countries will be negotiating with us.” said one official on condition of anonymity. Thus, India is keen to clarify beforehand the precise parameters and protocols of any briefing session so as to avoid being confronted at the plenary with demands for changes to the draft exemption. If pressed by the Germans to make its case at the plenary, India would ideally like to confine itself to reading out a prepared statement.

Non-proliferation record

India, the officials insist, is more than willing to stand by its “excellent non-proliferation record” and allay any fears or doubts the NSG members may have about the resumption of nuclear commerce with it. Indeed, the country’s high-level delegation -- to be headed by Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon -- will hold a formal meeting with the NSG troika of Germany, South Africa and Hungary on August 20, one day before the group’s plenary consultations begins. An Indian team had briefed the troika earlier as well, on the sidelines of the NSG’s last plenary in Berlin in May. But engaging with the NSG en masse is seen here as an entirely different cup of tea.

Right from July 2005, New Delhi’s understanding has always been that lobbying with individual NSG members is one thing but making the case for the India exemption inside the group itself is the sole responsibility of the United States. Once the negotiations over the 123 agreement concluded last July, however, U.S. officials began publicly to push the line that convincing the NSG would have to be largely an Indian effort with the Americans providing only back-up support. “In a sense, the U.S. will act as India’s sherpa at the NSG,” said Nicholas Burns, who was Washington’s point man for the deal at the time, last August. In remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations, he added, “the Indians will need to convince the Nuclear Suppliers Group ... that it should give the same kind of international treatment in terms of civil nuclear trade to India that the United States would have just given bilaterally.”

Vienna will be a test for deciding who has to do the convincing — India or the United States — though the bottom line has already been clearly been spelt out by Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) chairman Anil Kakodkar. He was quoted by PTI on Sunday as saying India expected the NSG to approve the exemption “without any change to the draft that was circulated to them recently.”

In Vienna, Mr. Menon will be accompanied by the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy, Shyam Saran, the DAE’s R.B. Grover and D.B. Venkatesh Varma from the Indian mission in Geneva. Apart from meeting with the NSG troika — composed of the current, previous and next chairs of the group — the Indian team also intends to brief those individual member States which still have concerns about the proposed exemption for India from the NSG’s “full-scope safeguards” export rule.

India might also make available to Germany for circulation to all the NSG members a written statement outlining the country’s export control regulations and its non-proliferation record more generally.

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