A well-timed leak in an American newspaper could complicate New Delhi’s case at the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting that begins on Thursday even as India anxiously awaited a nod from the 45-nation group to engage in civil nuclear trade.
The Washington Post newspaper reported on Wednesday the Bush administration told the US Congress in a secret communication in January 2008 that it would immediately terminate nuclear trade should India test again and not sell New Delhi sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technologies.
The secret letter threw Delhi into a twirl, coming as it does on the eve of the NSG meeting. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called a meeting of the core group of ministers to discuss the significance of the letter and its impact on the meeting.
The Left and BJP pounced upon the government. CPM politburo said in a statement, “The Manmohan Singh government stands exposed.”
And the BJP agreed, saying the government stood “completely exposed”.
Diplomats here in Vienna suggested that the US should not ask the NSG to do what it does not want to do with India.
India has made it clear that while seeking a “clean” waiver from the NSG, it does not want the nuclear club to impose an explicit ban on supplying it with enrichment and reprocessing facilities.
“The fuel supply assurances are not, however, meant to insulate India against the consequences of a nuclear explosive test or a violation of nonproliferation commitments,” the US State Department said in a letter to late Congressman Tom Lantos.
“US government will not assist India in the design, construction or operation of sensitive nuclear technologies,” even though the American Hyde Act allowed transfers of such technology under certain circumstances.
The Bush administration, a text of the communication to Lantos said, had “no plan or intention to negotiate an amendment to the proposed US-India agreement to transfer to India sensitive nuclear facilities”.
Reacting to the Post report, US Ambassador to India David Mulford claimed that the letter to the late Representative Lantos contained “no new conditions and there is no data in this letter which has not already been shared in an open and transparent way with members of Congress and with the Government of India”.
The letter also suggested that the NSG should agree to an appropriate response, which could include termination of nuclear transfers, in case one or more suppliers believe that India had violated its understandings with them.
Here, in Vienna, ahead of the NSG meeting, there isn’t much anyone is letting on. Not even the security people at the venue where the NSG gather on Thursday -- the Japanese permanent mission in Vienna.
The Americans, meanwhile, who have been aggressively pushing for an India-specific waiver at the NSG, believe that they will be able to swing it, but others are not quite sure. “It's not if, it's when,” one diplomat, speaking on background, told the HT. There are also suggestions that one more meeting – a brief one — will be required to clear the nuclear deal.
Another diplomat, who will head his country's team for the talks on Thursday, said there would be speeches, like at a previous meeting on August 21 by different member nations. “We would then be looking to get into some drafting opportunities with the Americans, looking at the revised text paragraph by paragraph.”
Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon is expected to arrive on Thursday to be at hand for consultations. India, of course, is not a member of the NSG and will not be at the meetings.