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India wary of U.S. goalpost shift on NSG clearance

Siddharth Varadarajan

Washington, not Delhi, must convince nuclear cartel to change guidelines


Counter to U.S. commitment

No reference to America’s responsibility


New Delhi: India will emphasise to the United States that under the terms of the July 2005 joint statement, responsibility for getting the Nuclear Suppliers Group to amend its guidelines to allow nuclear commerce with India rests with Washington and not New Delhi.

Senior officials say this reminder is considered necessary because the U.S. has now started saying it is up to India to convince the 45-nation cartel to change its guidelines.

Same treatment

For example, U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns told the Council of Foreign Relations on August 2 that “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.”

On August 3, Mr. Burns told a group of Indian correspondents in Washington that the U.S. would actively support “India’s efforts” at the NSG. According to IANS, he said: “The U.S. will be very active in supporting India in its efforts to convince the 45-nation NSG.” The Hindustan Times reported him saying, “In a sense, the U.S. will act as India’s sherpa at the NSG.”

More recently, on August 7, Mr. Burns told CNN-IBN in a live interview that after negotiating its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, “India would then have to go to the NSG. The U.S. will be a very strong supporter of India at the NSG.”

Counter to commitment

This formulation of India exerting itself to ascend the NSG summit — even if with the support of an American “sherpa” — is counter to the very clear commitment the U.S. made in the July 18, 2005 joint statement. There, President George W. Bush pledged that “the United States will work with friends and allies to adjust international regimes to enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India.”

Senior Indian officials told The Hindu that while India fully intends to explain its case to individual NSG members, it did not want to get into a situation of negotiating with the NSG. “We are not even there [as a member], 221; said one official. “It is America’s responsibility to do the convincing so that the NSG allows full civil nuclear cooperation with India.” Indeed, for certain NSG countries, India is evolving a careful strategy to ensure its position is understood. For example, serious consideration is being given to the idea of sending a high-level political envoy to Beijing to “pop the question” and address any concerns the Chinese may have. But, say officials, the task of “going to the NSG” or “convincing” the cartel belongs solely to the U.S.

Burns formulation

New Delhi is also perturbed by another Burns formulation that suggests the U.S. might try to limit the scope of any NSG rule change to ensure that the terms of international nuclear commerce available to India are not more generous than what the U.S. itself is offering.

In his CFR interview, Mr. Burns emphasised that the changed NSG guidelines “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.” The exact same phrase was repeated by Mr. Burns in his interview to Indian correspondents in Washington and to NDTV on August 7.

Though Mr. Burns and his team provided explicit assurances last month that the U.S. would not support the incorporation of a “right of return” clause at the NSG in the event of a future nuclear detonation by India, Indian officials are worried about Washington’s commitment to India accessing “full civil nuclear cooperation and trade” at the international level. Since the U.S.-India 123 agreement does not provide for the transfer of reprocessing, enrichment and heavy water technology and components, as well as dual use components for the same, New Delhi’s only hope of accessing these lies in the NSG adopting a simple, non-discriminatory change to its guidelines.

Indian officials acknowledge that the first sign of a subtle shift in U.S. commitments on the NSG front came on July 27, when India and the U.S. were working out the language of the joint statement to be issued by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

The final version of the joint statement omitted any reference to America’s responsibility to tackle the NSG and simply states: “The next steps include India negotiating a safeguards agreement with the IAEA and support for nuclear trade with India from the forty-five member Nuclear Suppliers Group.

“Unusual for sensitive joint statements issued at the ministerial level, there is a minor variation in the version of the joint statement issued by the U.S. State Department: “The next steps include India’s negotiation of a safeguards agreement with the IAEA and support for nuclear trade with India in the forty-five member Nuclear Suppliers Group.” (Variations in italics) Though minor, the variation is linguistically significant: the India n version is in active voice, the U.S. version in passive. The failure to issue identical texts reflects not just sloppy drafting but also lingering differences between the two delegations on the nature of future commitments at the NSG.

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