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Sleepless in Vienna, waking up N-powered

The Nuclear Suppliers Group finally rejected the long-held thesis that India was a part of the non-proliferation problem. Overnight, it was now part of the solution, reports Amit Baruah. Also see: Special CoveragePath to nuclear power

world Updated: Sep 07, 2008 02:09 IST
Amit Baruah

At 11.56 am Austria time, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon phoned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. His message: the high priests of non-proliferation had consented.

After going into a third, extra day of meetings, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) had, finally, rejected the long-held thesis that India was a part of the non-proliferation problem. Overnight, it was now part of the solution.

<b1>A beaming Menon, standing on the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel, told Hindustan Times that he had slept just an hour-and-a-half on Friday night. It had gone well beyond the wire. The NSG, which sat in an intermittent session till 1.40 am on Saturday, had seen some stout resistance from Ireland, Austria and New Zealand. But it was China’s ‘last-minute intentions’ that had started to worry the Indian delegation.

Between the Americans and Indians, a massive diplomatic push began. Last-minute meetings and phone calls ensured that New Zealand, Austria and Ireland — in that order — gave in. China, beginning to see that the anti-waiver bloc was buckling, also stood back. Reports suggest that US President George W Bush spoke to his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao to ensure there were no last-minute hitches.

The NSG is yet to release the text. But officials said that India had given away nothing.

As the US moves Congress to clear the next hurdle on the deal, India gets ready to sign previously negotiated agreements with France and Russia on the purchase of new nuclear reactors.

The Indian plan was to ensure that China would be left as the only country objecting to an NSG consensus. It went according to script. The final session lasted under an hour. Everything had been tied up. The Indians and Americans knew before the session began that the deal would go through.

Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s statement on Friday — underlining India's policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons and that New Delhi was committed to strengthening the non-proliferation regime — had gone a long way in assuaging concerns about India’s intentions. A Danish diplomat said after the meeting: "The era of confrontation with India has ended. We now look forward to cooperating with you. Without Mukherjee's statement, there could have been no deal."

India has been liberated from stifling conditions that emasculated its energy options for 34 years.