Taking a giant step forward in bringing India into the international nuclear order, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) governing board approved a safeguards agreement by consensus in Vienna on Friday. This brings India closer to buying nuclear reactors and fuel from abroad to diversify its energy mix.
<b1>IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei spoke out in defence of the agreement, which he described as a “solid” one following criticism from certain countries at the meeting. “It satisfies India’s needs while maintaining all the Agency's legal requirements,” ElBaradei said in a statement.
Representatives from Austria, Switzerland, Ireland and Norway, upset with the agreement, said they would take up the issue at the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an informal club that must now relax its guidelines to accommodate India. But they did not press for a vote.
This, senior officials believe, could make the going tough for India at the NSG, something, which the government has been aware of for some time. One possibility is that “unhappy” NSG nations could have the option of not engaging in nuclear trade with India.
In Colombo, PM Manmohan Singh said Friday was an important day for India and its civil nuclear initiative. “The initiative is good for India and good for the world.” “I am grateful to the members of the IAEA board of governors, to our partners and friends abroad, and, in particular, to the USA, for making this important step in the IAEA possible,” Singh, in Colombo for the SAARC summit, said in a statement.
After objecting to the safeguards agreements, Pakistan sought to twist it to its own advantage. Its IAEA envoy, Shahbaz, said in Vienna that the accord should be seen as setting a precedent, which would allow non-discriminatory treatment for other countries outside the nuclear pale like Pakistan.
ElBaradei said that 1/6th of humanity — a reference to India — could not be kept out of the international arms control and disarmament regime.
Shahbaz said the NSG should adopt a criteria-based approach as opposed to the India-specific route that key Western nations have sought to take vis-à-vis New Delhi.
ElBaradei stressed this agreement was not intended to turn India into a non-nuclear weapons' state. He argued that India opening 14 of 22 nuclear reactors to international inspectors from the atomic watchdog was an incremental step towards the goal of non-proliferation. He said the safeguards agreement was good for India, where some 400 million people did not have access to electricity. He also spoke of India’s growing energy requirements.
Senior officials told Hindustan Times that countries like Brazil, Norway and wanted India to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The Chinese representative at the IAEA board said the safeguards' agreement should be both non-discriminatory and equitable, implying the need to accommodate Pakistan, which wants an agreement similar to that with India.
According to the officials, the Iranian envoy stated that this agreement would create a precedent for Israel, which, like India, is yet to sign the NPT while the Iraqi representative said it should not set a precedent.
Malaysia, on its part, said the NPT did not allow for member states to supply nuclear material to countries that had not signed the Treaty.
In his prepared statement, the IAEA DG said the “umbrella” agreement with India was a "more efficient mechanism for ensuring that safeguard requirements can be met". It provides that any facility notified by India in future will become subject to safeguards, ElBaradei remarked.
“As with other safeguards agreements between the Agency and member states, the agreement is of indefinite duration. There are no conditions for the discontinuation of safeguards other than those provided by the safeguards' agreement itself.”
“Naturally – as with all safeguards agreements – this agreement is subject to the general rules of international law. Therefore, the agreement should be read as an integral whole,” the DG added.
In Washington, the United States on Friday welcomed the International Atomic Energy Agency's approval of the safeguards agreement with India.
“This is important not only for us in bilateral relations but for the world,” Gonzalo Gallegos of the State Department said.
The next step in operationalising the India-US civilian nuclear agreement will be for India to get a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Gallegos hoped the NSG also would take a positive decision. “We will then take it to Congress.” Asked whether there was enough time left, he said, "There is time on the clock and we hope to take advantage of it."
(With inputs from V Krishna in Washington)