India was “cautiously optimistic” about getting a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which met twice in Vienna on Thursday to decide whether or not to allow nuclear commerce with New Delhi. It will meet again on Friday.
“It may not be possible for us to get the waiver by Friday,” said a senior official here on the basis of reports received from Vienna. He also said that countries in favour of changing the rules for India wanted it done by Friday. The NSG might sit beyond Friday or reconvene on September 2.
“It’s going to go right down to the wire,” the official, who preferred anonymity, said, adding, “Countries with objections are not going to give them up after a few hours of debate and discussion.”
No formal amendments had been moved till late this evening to an American draft allowing India to buy nuclear fuel and reactors abroad.
Amendments that place conditions on India engaging in nuclear commerce will create problems.
Some small countries, however, did urge India to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) at the NSG sessions on Thursday. A PTI report from Vienna said that Austria, New Zealand and Switzerland wanted to know why India should be granted a waiver.
On Wednesday, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee spoke to five foreign ministers of Germany, the US, China, Russia and Brazil to smoothen the path for India at the NSG.
"This won't be easy, we need to be patient," US Ambassador to India, David Mulford, told an Indian television channel. "It is quite early to say how the NSG talks will go."
It was a day of waiting. For ministers, officials and journalists. What was happening at the NSG and would India get its waiver? How long would it take and which countries could throw a spanner in the works?
After meeting on Thursday morning, representatives of the 45-nation Group took a break and were then briefed by Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon.
The Indian side is learnt to have presented India's case for a clean and unconditional waiver, given the country's impeccable non-proliferation record.
Soon after Menon's briefing, the NSG reconvened. The process of speech making by member nations then resumed, the officials said.
Ahead of the NSG's deliberations on Thursday, countries like New Zealand, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland and Norway had appeared keen on imposing conditions while granting a waiver to India.
A Swiss foreign ministry spokesman said his country's stand would depend on whether agreement is reached on an exemption that contains the "necessary non-proliferation guarantees", the Associated Press news agency reported.
Some of the "critical countries" were pushing for a clause that would revoke NSG privileges for India if it tested a nuclear weapon again.
The Norwegian foreign ministry, stressing its reservations were not India-specific, said Oslo was "concerned about the implications to the international nonproliferation regime", particularly the NPT, the wire service added.
Earlier in the week, New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark, said, "It would be no secret that we would like to see more conditionalities around the agreement."
At present, the draft waiver circulated by the United States makes no reference to India signing the NPT, but speaks of a "desire" to contribute to an effective non-proliferation regime and the "widest possible implementation" of the Treaty's objectives.
The draft also welcomed India's decision to continue its "unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests" and "readiness to work with others to work with others towards the conclusion of a multilateral Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty."