29 July 2008

U.S. says NSG waiver for India will be 'clean' but not 'unconditional'

It also seems that an attempt will be made to tie the implementation of the NSG rule change to the completion of all the necessary domestic steps in the United States...

29 July 2008
The Hindu

No ‘unconditional’ NSG nod for India, says U.S.

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: Though India has made it clear that it expects the United States to deliver a “clean and unconditional exemption” for it from the export guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Washington says it is committed only to a “clean” and not “unconditional” waiver for New Delhi.

The distinction has not been lost on Indian officials as they await the American draft changes to the NSG guidelines.

According to sources, the draft is still going through the “inter-agency process” in Washington and might be handed over to New Delhi by Tuesday.

At a press conference on July 23, U.S. Ambassador David C. Mulford was at pains to clarify to journalists the distinction between the two concepts. (The audio link is here) He also said the “review by Congress” would be one of the “pieces” that NSG members would consider in granting their waiver, thereby opening the possibility of America seeking to tie the cartel down to not moving ahead with India until the domestic legislative process in the U.S. is complete.

During the internal negotiation process in Washington over the wording of the Hyde Act, the State Department’s principal nuclear negotiator, Richard Stratford, had argued that Congress was getting the sequencing wrong in vetting the 123 Agreement after the NSG had already acted. By insisting that the NSG act first, he said, India would be free to access nuclear supplies from elsewhere even if the U.S. Congress were to shoot down or delay ratification of the 123 Agreement.

Partly in order to deal with this problem, the U.S. is believed to have secured a “political understanding” from Russia and France that they would not rush to conclude export deals with India as soon as the NSG waiver comes through and would wait till Congress has the chance to ratify the 123 Agreement.

But with Congress now looking at a very tight schedule, it is possible some attempt will be made to include language in the NSG waiver making its implementation conditional on America completing its internal steps first.

To the extent to which this kind of drafting language would infringe on the sovereignty of the NSG’s 44 other members, officials here expect that any such move will be resisted by countries such as Russia.

Mulford's statement

At his press conference on July 23, U.S. Ambassador David C. Mulford was emphatic about the proposed waiver for India at the Nuclear Suppliers Group not being “unconditional”.

“I don’t think that you should use the word ‘unconditional waiver’,” he said in response to a question about the NSG. “I mean, what we talked about is getting a clean exemption, that means an exemption that is not laden with detailed concerns that we believe are adequately dealt with elsewhere, for example in the 123 Agreement, and secondly in the IAEA safeguards agreement, and finally in the determinations the President has to make under the Hyde Act.” When the U.S. and other members of the 45-nation NSG “go through this top to bottom,” said Mr. Mulford, “we will be able to move forward with a clean exemption.”

To a follow-up question what sort of conditions the U.S. expected the NSG to impose if the waiver were not unconditional, the Ambassador backtracked somewhat. “Let me go back to this question ‘unconditional waiver’. All I said there was I didn’t think that was the right word. I didn’t say there were going to be conditions,” he clarified. “By referring to it as a clean exemption, what we mean there is [the NSG will] decide to go ahead and agree to support the various pieces that have been put together — the 123 Agreement, the IAEA safeguards … and also the review made by Congress and the presidential determinations which go with that. We hope every country will then say we think this does cover all the issues we have on our mind and that they come out with a consensus for a movement forward which does not have conditions attached to it by the NSG. That’s basically the situation.”

Though he said the waiver not being “unconditional” didn’t mean the NSG exemption would involve conditions, it is significant that Mr. Mulford has been particular about only using the word “clean” when speaking about the waiver.

Asked repeatedly by Karan Thapar on CNBC on July 23 about a “clean and unconditional waiver,” for example, the U.S. Ambassador again used the first term and not the second in his answers each time.

According to Indian officials, the U.S. has been saying for some months now that the NSG waiver could include “reasonable conditionalities” and that the Europeans were insisting on these.

(In the print edition, the story was split into two. The url of the second part is here)

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