26 April 2007

Detailed safeguards talks with IAEA only after 123 negotiations conclude

India wants fuel supply assurance issue with U.S. resolved first because american backsliding on earlier commitments has complicated safeguards picture.

26 April 2007
The Hindu

Detailed safeguards talks with IAEA only after 123 negotiations conclude

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: The United States may want India to speed up its discussions with the International Atomic Energy Agency but the Government has decided to postpone detailed technical talks with the IAEA on safeguards until after the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement has been finalised.

India has held two rounds of exploratory discussions with Agency officials and will conduct a third round when Department of Atomic Energy Chairman Anil Kakodkar travels to Vienna next week. "But unless the 123 agreement with the U.S. is sorted out, we are not going to be in a position to hold detailed technical negotiations with the IAEA on the nature of the India-specific safeguards agreement," a senior official told The Hindu .

Why the wait

The reason for wanting to wait, say officials, is that unless the ongoing talks with the U.S. resolve the issue of fuel supply assurances for the operating lifetime of all reactors going under IAEA monitoring, there will be little sense in trying to work out the details of the "India-specific" safeguards agreement.

"Our commitment in the March 2006 Separation Plan to place all civilian reactors under safeguards in perpetuity is strictly tied to those fuel supply assurances, including the creation of a strategic fuel reserve with U.S. assistance," one official said.

Nature of agreement

Indian officials familiar with the ongoing negotiations with the U.S. note that the nature of the safeguards agreement to be drawn up has to correspond, broadly speaking, to INFCIRC 66, Rev. 2 — the standard, facility-specific safeguard template of the IAEA.

"The only difference with the boilerplate 66 agreement will be the incorporation of fuel supply guarantees as well as India's right to take corrective measures as far as perpetuity is concerned, in the event of a supply breakdown," said a senior official.

But with the U.S. evidently rethinking the fuel supply assurance issue, the safeguards picture has become complicated.

"If we have still not nailed down this India-specific part of the INFCIRC 66-type safeguards by operationalising the commitments contained in the March 2006 Separation Plan, how can India think of completing its safeguards agreement with the IAEA?"

But once the 123 agreement is settled, the safeguards negotiations are likely to be fairly straightforward, says an official.

Indian officials reject the suggestion made in a section of the media that there is a "Delhi vs. Mumbai" division within the Indian negotiating team, with the atomic scientists in Mumbai delaying negotiations with the IAEA that the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi allegedly wished to speed up.


The Indian team's mandate, they note, stems directly from the Prime Minister's assurances to Parliament. "We are at a stage where fundamental differences exist between the Indian and American sides on a number of issues," said a senior official. "Time is not going to help resolve these differences so it is not as if we gain by delaying things."

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