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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. 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.

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