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Government aims to win friends on N-deal

EAM Pranab Mukherjee tries to allay Left allies' concerns over the Hyde Act, reports Nilova Roy Chaudhury.
Hindustan Times | By Nilova Roy Chaudhury, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 03, 2008 09:49 PM IST

With India and the International Atomic Energy Agency having made what a senior official called “considerable headway” in negotiations for an India-specific safeguards agreement, the government on Monday aimed to allay concerns of its Left allies by addressing allegations that the Hyde Act would negatively impact Indian policy.

“The Hyde Act (passed by the US Congress in December 2006) is an enabling provision that is between the executive and the legislative organs of the US Government,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in a suo motu statement to both houses of Parliament. “India’s rights and obligations regarding civil nuclear cooperation with the US arise only from the bilateral 123 Agreement that we have agreed upon with the US.”

The statement also sought to widen the scope of cooperation that the deal would afford beyond the United States, saying it would finally signal an end to the unfair technology denial regimes and sanctions India has faced for over three decades.

With time running out for the deal to become functional, the government is aiming to “seek broad political consensus” before it can “arrive at an agreed text of an India-specific Safeguards Agreement,” Mukherjee said. “The conclusion of such an agreement will enable the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group to amend its guidelines for civil nuclear commerce in favour of India,” he said. “This will open the door to civil nuclear cooperation with various countries, including Russia, USA, France, UK, etc., with many of whom the necessary enabling bilateral agreements for such trade have been discussed and are in various stages of finalization.”

Mukherjee will take a status report of the negotiations with the IAEA for vetting to a meeting of the Left –UPA mechanism shortly. Only when the Indian government clears the final text of the safeguards agreement can it be sent on to the IAEA Board of Governors and on to the NSG for a waiver. The deal would need to be ratified by the US Congress before it can become functional. This being US presidential election year, the deal, with India-specific safeguards and NSG waiver, would need to reach the US Congress by June/July.

Interestingly, speaking to the Board of Governors which is meeting from Monday, IAEA DG Mohamed El Baradei sought the creation of a nuclear fuel bank which would assure fuel supplies to member countries (and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signatories) seeking nuclear fuel for their power programmes.

“I have been advocating for some time the establishment of a multinational mechanism to assure access for all countries to nuclear fuel and reactor technology, and simultaneously to strengthen the non-proliferation regime,” El Baradei said.

One of the problems India and the IAEA secretariat have had to grapple with is the need for India, a nuclear-weapons state, to build a strategic fuel reserve and get assured nuclear fuel supplies for its civilian reactors.

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