China leads resistance to India joining nuclear export club

  • Reuters, Vienna
  • Updated: Jun 09, 2016 21:41 IST
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto backed India’s bid to join a nuclear trade group as Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Latin American nation on Wednesday. (AFP Photo)

A US-led push for India to join a club of countries controlling access to sensitive nuclear technology made some headway on Thursday as several opponents appeared more willing to work towards a compromise, but China remained defiant.

The 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group aims to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons by restricting the sale of items that can be used to make those arms. It was set up in response to India’s first nuclear test in 1974.

India already enjoys most of the benefits of membership under a 2008 exemption to NSG rules granted to support its nuclear cooperation deal with Washington, even though India has developed atomic weapons and never signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the main global arms control pact.

But China on Thursday maintained its position that the Non-Proliferation Treaty is central to the NSG, diplomats said. The handful of other nations resisting India’s admission to the group, including South Africa, New Zealand and Turkey, softened their stance somewhat, opening the door to a process under which non-NPT states such as India might join, diplomats said.

Read: Why NSG membership matters to India: All you need to know

“There’s movement, including towards a process, but we’d have to see what that process would look like,” one diplomat said after the closed-door talks on Thursday aimed at preparing for an annual NSG plenary meeting in Seoul later this month. Opponents argue that granting India membership would further undermine efforts to prevent proliferation. It would also infuriate India’s rival Pakistan, an ally of China’s, which has responded to India’s membership bid with one of its own.

Pakistan joining would be unacceptable to many, given its track record. The father of its nuclear weapons programme ran an illicit network for years that sold nuclear secrets to countries including North Korea and Iran.

Read: As Modi comes calling, Mexico backs India bid to join NSG

“By bringing India on board, it’s a slap in the face of the entire non-proliferation regime,” a diplomatic source from a country resisting India’s bid said on condition of anonymity.

Washington has been pressuring hold-outs, and Thursday’s meeting was a chance to see how strong opposition is.

United States secretary of state John Kerry wrote to members asking them “not to block consensus on Indian admission to the NSG” in a letter seen by Reuters and dated Friday.

Most of the hold-outs argue that if India is to be admitted, it should be under criteria that apply equally to all states rather than under a “tailor-made” solution for a US ally.

Mexico’s president said on Wednesday his country now backs India’s membership bid. One Vienna-based diplomat said it had softened its stance but still opposed the idea of India joining under conditions that did not apply equally to all.

Read: India’s NSG bid: Too much diplomacy, too little action

The backing — the second in a week after Switzerland — came on a day the 48-member grouping held a closed-door meeting in Vienna to discuss India’s membership bid.

Earlier this week, Switzerland, which like Mexico had strong reservations on India’s entry to the NSG, announced its support when Modi travelled to the Alpine country.

India is already poised to join the missile technology control regime (MTCR) after talks this week between Modi and US President Barack Obama. Both groups — NSG and MTCR — will give India greater access to research and technology.

The US and many other NSG member countries have supported India’s inclusion based on its non-proliferation track record. A final decision is not expected before an NSG plenary in Seoul on June 20, but diplomats in Vienna said Washington was pressuring the hold-outs, and Thursday’s meeting was a chance to see how strong the opposition is.

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