M A I N   N E W S

IAEA thumbs up for N-deal
Over to Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting on Aug 21-22

Vienna, August 1
Governors of the UN nuclear watchdog approved an inspections plan for India by consensus on Friday, a key step towards finalising a US-Indian nuclear cooperation deal, diplomats in the closed meeting said.

The accord would open up to India the world market in atomic materials and technology for civilian use, but is controversial since New Delhi has conducted nuclear test explosions and never joined the global Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

With the go-ahead from International Atomic Energy Agency governors, Washington must persuade a 45-nation nuclear supply cartel to grant India a waiver allowing trade with a non-NPT state, then get US Congress ratification, to sew up the deal.

The initial Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meeting on India is expected to be held on August 21-22, diplomats said.

The IAEA’s director told concerned agency governors that the inspections scheme met non-proliferation safeguards standards and talks had begun on a system of more intrusive, short-notice checks — which would boost confidence in India's intentions.

Washington and close allies say the deal ushers giant India towards the non-proliferation mainstream and fights global warming by promoting use of low-polluting nuclear energy in surging developing economies, reducing high oil and gas costs as well.

Some smaller Western and developing nations and disarmament groups are concerned the accord could undermine loyalty to a 40-year-old NPT already strained by a thrust for nuclear power, led by Iran, in the volatile Middle East.

Diplomats had said IAEA board approval of the inspections draft was certain because, despite qualms about vague language, it marks a net gain for non-proliferation by putting the bulk of Indian reactors under U.N. scrutiny.

The 'umbrella safeguards agreement' applies to India's 14 declared civilian nuclear reactors, among the total of 22.

ElBaradei touched on diplomatic concern that parts of the draft blur divisions between civil and military atomic sectors, with a possible loophole allowing India to transfer bomb-grade fuel separated from civilian stocks to its military programme.

“These are not comprehensive or full-scope safeguards unlike with NPT member states,” he said.

“But it satisfies India's needs while maintaining all the agency’s legal requirements,” he told the closed Vienna meeting. As with other safeguards agreements between the agency and member states, the agreement is of indefinite duration. There are no conditions for discontinuation, other than those provided by the safeguards agreement itself,” he said.

Some diplomats were concerned such language might allow India to halt inspections unilaterally if nuclear fuel imports were cut off, for example in response to another nuclear test, although India is observing a voluntary moratorium. “There were many statements of support for the plan but also many statements with concern and questions, but no one openly opposed it,” said one Vienna diplomat, who like others spoke on ground rules of anonymity due to political sensitivities.

Washington and New Delhi have lobbied other countries hard — 26 of the 35 IAEA board members also are in the NSG — to expedite the deal through remaining hurdles, with time fast running out before US politics pause for November elections.

India faces a tougher sell at the NSG, a cartel formed in response to India’s 1974 nuclear test to limit trade in “trigger list” nuclear items — those with civilian or military uses — to NPT member states with good non-proliferation records.

Diplomats said India’s pursuit of an unconditional NSG exemption faces likely demands by some members for a binding pledge of no more nuclear tests and significant progress towards implementing an Additional Protocol.

“The US put undue pressure on many countries not to raise concerns, but they were raised today,” said a European diplomat.

Another EU diplomat said: “Many in the IAEA meeting wanted to put these concerns on record for the NSG.” — Reuters



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