No pause in Govt’s schedule for 123

India-specific safeguards pact with the IAEA could be wound up in October, reports Nilova Roy Chaudhury.

india Updated: Sep 21, 2007 02:55 IST
Nilova Roy Chaudhury
Nilova Roy Chaudhury
Hindustan Times

The government, working on a timeline that coincides with that of the US, has decided to wind up the India-specific safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in October, coinciding with the visit of its Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei.

The safeguards agreement would then be presented to the next board of governors meeting of the IAEA in November, senior government sources told HT.

After it is accepted, the US would need to call an extraordinary plenary session of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, at which India expects to get what Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Anil Kakodkar called a “clean and unconditional waiver” to resume nuclear commerce. The US, which briefed the NSG members on the civil nuclear deal with India at a closed door session in Vienna on Thursday, wants to seal the agreement by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, the US reminded India that the deal can’t be kept hanging for long. “The US wants to meet the entire prerequisites of the operationalisation of the deal by the end of this year,” Richard Stratford, Director at the Office of Nuclear Energy Affairs in the US State Department, told PTI. Stratford was one of the key negotiators who worked on details of the 123 Agreement from its inception.

<b1>Once these steps are complete, the 123 Agreement would be presented for consideration to the US Congress. At the US Congress the agreement would need a 90-working-day “lie-in” period before it can be voted upon. Only then would the two countries sign the Agreement for it to become law.

“Once the 123 Agreement gets Congressional approval, only that will govern bilateral relations on the issue,” Minister of Science and Technology Kapil Sibal told HT.

“It will be unique, because the global nuclear regime is difficult to access as collaboration with the NSG is possible only when a country joins the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), or gives up its weapons programme.”

India has not signed the NPT, nor will its strategic programme be affected under terms of the Agreement.

“Given the constraints, the US decision to make a waiver for India is a huge advancement that also takes care of all our security concerns (not only energy security),” Sibal said.

“We want an India-specific safeguards agreement because it is linked to the uninterrupted flow of fuel to our reactors and for India to build strategic fuel reserves for the life of each reactor under safeguards before we agree to place our civilian nuclear reactors under perpetual safeguards,” Sibal said.

Declining to comment on whether the government had a timeline in mind by which to operationalise the deal, Sibal said, “the basic thing is we are committed to this deal and we are committed to taking on board the concerns of the Left.”

When External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee visits Washington next week he will communicate the UPA government's commitment to the deal and the constraints it faces.

First Published: Sep 20, 2007 20:38 IST