22 August 2008

Dateline Vienna: NSG critics focus on non-proliferation benchmarks

NPT, future of the non-proliferation regime, blah blah gurgle nyah...

22 August 2008
The Hindu

NSG critics focus on non-proliferation benchmarks

Siddharth Varadarajan

Vienna: At the end of the first full day of deliberations on India at the Nuclear Suppliers Group, it was clear that the American proposal to exempt India from the cartel’s stringent export guidelines had produced plenty of heat but not enough light.

Speaking to reporters after the plenary dispersed for the day, the senior-most U.S. official at the NSG struck a noncommittal tone in saying the group had had “a very full discussion today” and that he remained optimistic that “we’re going to be successful in this process.”

John D. Rood, who is Under Secretary of State for Nonproliferation and who kicked off the discussion at the NSG in the morning as head of the U.S. delegation, also said the proposal to grant India a waiver “is a serious subject and it’s a room full of serious people who have taken it in that manner.” He said there would be “additional discussions” within the NSG on Friday “but for our part in the United States, we continue to believe this is a very important initiative, and we remain committed to achieving an outcome that is both a net benefit for the non-proliferation regime and it meets India’s energy needs.”

The U.S. has “an important emerging relationship with India that we continue to believe is critical and important for the United States,” he added.

The morning’s discussions began with the NSG’s German chair calling the special plenary to order and inviting opening comments on the American proposal that had already been circulated to members.

First off the bat was the U.S. According to an account provided to The Hindu by a participant from a former Eastern Bloc country, the U.S. urged the adoption of the waiver as it stood “in a nice but not so forceful way.” The diplomat divided NSG members into three groups based on their opening interventions. Those who strongly backed adoption of the text included the Czech Republic, Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine. A second group of “like-minded countries” said they wished to be “constructive” but wanted some additions and conditions included in the text. Among these were Austria, Ireland and New Zealand. Switzerland too expressed concerns, he said, as did the Nordic group. The third group consisted of those who came out in favour of the proposal but who did not appear overly enthusiastic.

This group, according to the diplomat, included Germany and Japan, as well as Canada and Australia.

Other diplomats described Thursday’s deliberations as “positive” and “constructive.” “There is nothing new that is being said. Every country’s position is well known. But the question is whether we can take a decision either way by tomorrow,” a diplomat who did not want her country to be identified told The Hindu. “If not, perhaps another meeting may be necessary.”

According to these diplomats, many interventions lamented the implications of the India exemption for the future of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the non-proliferation regime in general. Some delegations noted that an earlier reference to the desirability of India eventually accepting international safeguards over all its nuclear facilities — equivalent to New Delhi giving up the bomb and signing the NPT — had now been dropped.

Indeed, the issues of NPT, full-scope safeguards and non-proliferation concerns figured prominently in an informal briefing Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon held for NSG members at the UN complex on Wednesday night.

Both Austria and New Zealand attended that briefing and asked questions, diplomats said.

Indian officials say the raising of general non-proliferation objections by several countries may contain a silver lining because it shifts the terrain of discussion away from technical and legal nit-picking towards more “political considerations.”

One NSG country diplomat said most delegations concede that the bulk of their specific concerns have already been addressed by the Indian non-proliferation commitments listed in the draft waiver. “What some countries are looking for is tighter language tying the NSG’s waiver to those commitments.”

Asked for his assessment after Thursday’s more formal Indian presentation to NSG members, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon said India and NSG had decided to maintain the confidentiality of their interactions. Speaking on condition of anonymity, however, other Indian officials acknowledged the battle was “tough” but said the overall atmosphere in Vienna was “positive.”

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