New Delhi is still to approach the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to commence negotiations on an India-specific safeguards agreement in line with the 123 agreement with the United States.
According to official sources, Indian negotiators are awaiting “political instructions” from the Manmohan Singh Government before approaching the IAEA to commence negotiations.
In the normal course, India approaching the IAEA was expected to happen within days of the 123 draft being made public, but with the Left parties opposing any talks with the IAEA and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the situation has become complicated.
In July 2006, preliminary discussions with an IAEA team had been held in India, but that was before the US Congress approved legislation allowing for civil nuclear cooperation with India in December 2006 or the agreement on the 123 agreement.
Even before the political sabre-rattling by the Left parties, it was unlikely that a safeguards agreement with India would have been approved by the IAEA board of governors at its meeting from September 10-14 in Vienna since negotiations are still to begin.
Given that the next board of governors meeting is slotted for November 22-23, India still has time to begin serious negotiations with the IAEA – possibly after the current political crisis affecting the Manmohan Singh Government is resolved.
In any case, an opportunity for India to engage with IAEA officials at a senior level will present itself when Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Anil Kakodkar travels to Vienna for its general conference from September 17 to 21.
One of the issues that will require negotiation with the IAEA is the kind of “corrective measures” that India can take in case fuel supplies to safeguarded nuclear reactors is interrupted.
Article 6-C of the 123 agreement says, “…an India-specific safeguards agreement will be negotiated between India and the IAEA providing for safeguards to guard against withdrawal of safeguarded nuclear material from civilian use at any time as well as providing for corrective measures that India may take to ensure uninterrupted operation of its civilian nuclear reactors in the event of disruption of foreign fuel supplies.”
On the NSG front, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy Shyam Saran is currently on a four-nation trip to Russia, Germany, Brazil and Argentina to lobby support with members of the 45-nation group to relax its guidelines to allow for nuclear commerce with India.
Saran is learnt to have had a successful meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, where he was promised full support for India’s case at the NSG.
“We discussed the kind of challenges we may face in the NSG and our expectations of support from Russia, and he was very positive and forthcoming in his remarks,” the Special Envoy was quoted as saying after his meeting with Lavrov.
India and Russia, which have been in talks to conclude an inter-governmental agreement on nuclear energy cooperation, could sign the accord when the Indian Prime Minister travels to Moscow in November for the annual, bilateral summit.
The French, possibly, were the quickest of the block after details of the civil nuclear deal with the US were made public, with the Diplomatic Adviser of the French President, Jean-David Levitte, holding talks with National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan, on July 30.
“Both parties stressed their common endeavour to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, including power generation plants, and agreed to conclude expeditiously a bilateral co-operation agreement thereof. In this context they reaffirmed their commitment to international non-proliferation objectives,” a French statement said after the talks.
However, with the Government at odds with the Left parties on the civilian nuclear deal, the momentum on pushing India’s case at the IAEA and the NSG has definitely slowed.
Key foreign players, obviously, are watching how the political crisis in the country will play itself out.