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India on top of NSG agenda

The May 29 meet in Rio de Janeiro would focus on Indo-US nuclear deal.

india Updated: May 16, 2006 10:15 IST

When the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) sits for its plenary meeting in Rio de Janeiro on May 29, top of the agenda will be the Indo-US civilian nuclear energy deal.

On Monday, senior French nuclear policy officials said the NSG would discuss how to get India within the international non-proliferation regime, without its adherence to the NPT.

Though Iran is likely to try and take advantage of any arrangement between India and the NSG and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a top official said: "Iran will not be an obstacle for India at the NSG." But India's safeguards' agreement should be able to assure the NSG members that it was "leak-proof".

A plan separating the civilian from the strategic nuclear programme -- as presented to Parliament last week -- would "go a long way" in assuring that India will not use the nuclear supplies from abroad for its strategic programme, an official said. India has agreed to safeguards for its civilian reactors in perpetuity but it will not agree to full scope safeguards -- as applied to non-nuclear weapons countries.

The officials said it would help if India started lobbying with individual NSG members and if it can formally initiate details of a safeguards' agreement with the IAEA at the earliest. Department of Atomic Energy chief Anil Kakodkar has held preliminary talks on the issue at the IAEA, but more specific details (modeled on the 1966 safeguards for non-NPT states) could be worked on to make them 'India-specific', an official said.

France, a key supporter of India's ambitions to emerge from decades of nuclear pariah status, says support in the NSG does not face major hurdles within the organisation, but Scandinavian countries and China would "require some convincing" that the special deal for India will not affect the international non-proliferation regime. India has already begun talks with other likely "concerned" nations like Brazil and South Africa, which have avoided going nuclear.

Tests by India can also spoil its chances. Although France (unlike the US) has not incorporated a specific termination clause with India in the bilateral nuclear cooperation pact, signed during President Jacques Chirac's February trip, officials confirmed that any testing by India "would have a very negative impact" and could jeopardise the NSG's acceptance of the deal. Even the statement of intent of that pact speaks of nuclear cooperation with India for "peaceful and non-explosive purposes".

First Published: May 16, 2006 00:35 IST