India’s case for a waiver at the Nuclear Suppliers Group was being discussed intensely till late on Friday night, with the 45-nation club that controls global nuclear commerce unable to reach a decision till the filing of this report, at 11 pm India time.
It was touch and go most of the day, with the suspense intense: which way would the nuclear club go? Would it finally make an exception and allow India into the nuclear fold?
Non-proliferation hardliners ensured that a decision by the NSG actually went down to the wire. Austria, whose Capital Vienna was hosting the talks, led the opposition at the meeting, refusing to accept American suggestions, saying that it could not change policy on non-proliferation close to its parliament polls.
Senior Indian officials said Austria was joined by Ireland and New Zealand in opposing a waiver for India. China, too, wanted to know why the hurry to grant India the exemption.
Friday’s meeting was adjourned four times to allow for consultations. The final session began at 5.30 pm (9 pm India time). Diplomats coming out of the meeting appeared both pessimistic and optimistic, but no one was willing to give a commitment on the outcome.
India, of course, is not a member of the NSG and, consequently, none of its officials were present at the meeting. So, the onus of doing the “heavy lifting” for India lay with the United States, which has been leading the charge in trying to convince the NSG to ease its ban on nuclear trade with India.
Earlier in the day, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee issued a statement in New Delhi directed at NSG countries, seeking their cooperation on lifting nuclear curbs on India.
Acting US Under Secretary of State John Rood told reporters outside the meeting venue that Mukherjee had released a “very significant statement” with regard to India's non-proliferation commitments.
“So, on the basis of this (statement), we believe that a very positive momentum has been generated in the discussions…” Rood added that the US remained committed to achieving consensus within the NSG.