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India to brief NSG nations

The stakes are so high that India can't ignore any nation.

india Updated: May 25, 2006 18:17 IST

As the India-US civil nuclear deal makes it to the top of the agenda at the plenary meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in Brazil on May 29, New Delhi plans to brief each of the 45 NSG countries on multiple advantages of allowing nuclear trade with one of the world's fastest growing economies.

India will initially focus on the countries that gave up their strategic nuclear options like Brazil and South Africa and further activate ongoing dialogue with powerful countries like Japan and Germany where nuclear energy continues to be a divisive issue, official sources said.

New Delhi will then move on to small and middling countries, some of whom, like the Scandinavian countries, are known for their extreme non-proliferation sensitivities, the official added.

New Delhi also plans to focus more on winning the support of Beijing which has been making critical noises but has given enough signals that if it comes to the crunch it will not endanger the deal.

The central thrust of New Delhi's charm offensive with the NSG would be to convince each NSG member on how relaxing NSG rules to facilitate nuclear trade with India, a non-signatory to Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, will "substantially strengthen" the global non-nuclear proliferation regime.

The point is that the stakes are so high for New Delhi that it can't afford to ignore anyone in the NSG. Every country, no matter how small or big, counts and their positive view will have a multiplier effect, an official source said.

Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma visited Brazil and South Africa last month and discussed the nuclear issue with the governments of these countries. With Germany and Japan indicating a softening of their stance on nuclear cooperation with India, support for the India-US nuclear deal is growing in the NSG.

India has fine-tuned a strategy with the US, France and Britain to take the agreement forward in the NSG at a meeting held in London on Thursday. This strategy will be further refined when Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran discusses steps to take the nuclear deal forward with US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns next week in London.

"A majority of countries are with us in the NSG. But a final nod from the NSG has to wait till the US Congress clears the agreement," strategic expert K Subrahmanyam said.

The NSG countries have specific concerns about India's ongoing negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the nature of safeguards for the 14 civilian reactors it has agreed to place under UN scrutiny.

The final blueprint of India's safeguards agreement with the IAEA would be a crucial factor in swinging opinion in the NSG in favour of India.

"They also have confusion about the nature of India's obligations under the July 18 joint statement agreed upon between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George W Bush. We need to underline our impeccable record in non-proliferation and assure them that the nuclear fuel obtained from the NSG countries will not be diverted to our strategic programme," the official said.

In particular, the issue of a permanent ban on nuclear testing - a sticky issue between New Delhi and Washington after the former rejected a clause proposed by the latter in the draft of the proposed bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement - will come for closer scrutiny at the NSG meeting at Rio de Janeiro.