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Nuclear supplier countries reconvene on deal

world Updated: Sep 06, 2008 14:42 IST

IANS
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Nuclear supplier nations met again Saturday to try to break a deadlock in talks on a US initiative to lift a 34-year-old embargo on nuclear trade with India.

After talking into the early hours of Saturday, delegates from the so-called Nuclear Suppliers Group were set to gather again at 11:00 am (0900 GMT) to see if any headway was still possible amid complaints of "bullying" tactics by Washington.

Discussions had broken up shortly before 2:00 am (0000 GMT) after the Chinese delegation walked out in support of three countries -- Austria, Ireland and New Zealand -- holding out for a clear-cut commitment on India's part to refrain from nuclear bomb testing, a diplomat had attended the meeting said.

"The Chinese were furious. They walked out. And there's no agreement without the Chinese," the diplomat told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Irish were furious, too, and had complained that the US had been bullying them.

"There were several high-level phone calls" to the capitals of the hold-out countries, with even US President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice on the phone, the diplomat said.

The talks had been meant to end on Friday, but Washington is keen to get a deal through so that the US Congress can ratify it before it adjourns at the end of September for November elections.

The 2005 US-India deal is one of Bush's key foreign policy initiatives and may not come about it at all if left to the next government.

NSG rules ban nuclear trading with India because it refuses to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, developed atomic bombs in secret and conducted its first nuclear test in 1974.

The United States wants a special waiver from NSG rules for India, so it can share civilian nuclear technology with New Delhi.

The United States argues the deal would bring India into the NPT fold and help combat global warming by allowing it to develop low-polluting nuclear energy.

Critics say the deal undermines international non-proliferation efforts and accuse the nuclear powers of pursuing commercial and political gains.

There are three main sticking points, one diplomat said.

Termination of trade if India tests, no transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technoloyg and an annual review of the agreement.

But the crunch issue appears to be nuclear testing, since New Delhi has not signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

India has said it "remains committed to a voluntary, unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing."

But New Zealand, Ireland and Austria are demanding a stronger commitment.

On Friday, Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, a spokesman for the Austrian foreign ministry had told Indian private television NDTV in a telephone interview: "We want to have more effective and qualitatively improved security architecture" and "auxilliary measures" needed to be incorporated in the waiver text.

"So far, the draft text (of the agreement) is weak, with no real condition or consequence should India test," one diplomat said.

Speaking to reporters in the early hours of Saturday, acting US Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security, John Rood, said he felt "confident" an accord could still be reached.