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NSG ends India's ‘clean' waiver

Siddharth Varadarajan

New guidelines bar ‘sensitive' nuclear exports to countries outside NPT

NEW DELHI: The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on Friday adopted new guidelines on the transfer of sensitive nuclear technology that will effectively nullify the “clean” waiver India received from the cartel in 2008 as far as the import of enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology (ENR) is concerned.

The decision was announced from Noordwijk, the Netherlands, where the 46-nation grouping held its 2011 plenary meeting. The NSG “agreed to strengthen its guidelines on the transfer of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technologies,” a formal statement blandly noted.

Though the guidelines have not been made public yet, the draft text makes it clear that the group will exclude countries which are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and which do not have a full-scope safeguards agreement allowing international inspections of all their nuclear facilities.

Prior to this, the NSG had a catch-all requirement of full-scope safeguards — in paragraph 4 of its guidelines — for the supply of any nuclear equipment or material.

The only additional requirement for ENR exports — as contained in paragraphs 6 and 7 of the guidelines — was that the suppliers were asked to “exercise restraint” and to ensure that any supplied equipment or technology not be used to enrich uranium beyond 20 per cent.

The NSG's September 6, 2008 ‘Statement on Civil Nuclear Cooperation with India' waived the full-scope safeguards requirement of paragraph 4 and expressly allowed ENR exports, subject to paragraphs 6 and 7. In adopting its waiver, the NSG said it was acting “based on the commitments and actions” on non-proliferation undertaken by India.

But on Friday, the cartel tore up that bargain, adopting a new paragraph 6 specifying objective and subjective criteria a recipient country must meet before an NSG member can sell ENR to it. The very first of these is NPT membership.

Since all nuclear exports to the only other countries outside the NPT – Israel, Pakistan and North Korea – are already prohibited by paragraph 4, this provision in the guidelines was expressly designed to target India, to which the restrictions of that paragraph no longer apply.

When the U.S. first floated the guidelines in November 2008, Indian officials privately complained that the NPT provision would amount to a “rollback” of both the NSG waiver and the fundamental American commitment to ensure “full civil nuclear cooperation” with India.

Confidential U.S. embassy cables published by The Hindu last week quoted Shivshankar Menon, now National Security Adviser, and Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao protesting the draft ENR rules.

Last week, a senior Indian official told journalists that the government “has deep reservations about any move by the NSG that prevents the transfer of these technologies ... that will dilute the ... exemption that was given in 2008.”

Ironically, the U.S. insists that its support for the ban on ENR sales to India “in no way detract(s) from the exception granted to India by NSG members in 2008.” The reality is that an entire category of nuclear items which NSG members were allowed to sell to India as a result of the 2008 exception can no longer be supplied.

“Before voluntarily placing our civilian facilities under IAEA safeguards,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured Parliament on August 17, 2006, “we will ensure that all restrictions on India have been lifted.” What he didn't bargain for was that some restrictions, once lifted, might be imposed again.

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