NSG ends India's nuclear isolation; N-deal on course
India secures waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group by consensus to carry out N-commerce ending 34 years of isolation and taking the N-deal a step closer to fruition. Also see: Special CoverageUpdated: Sep 07, 2008, 00:01 IST
History was made on Saturday as the 45-member Nuclear Supplier's Group agreed by consensus to alter its guidelines for India, ending its 34 year nuclear isolation, and setting the stage for global commerce with New Delhi.
Politically, the "clean waiver" will be seen as a moral booster for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that had been under mounting pressure from sceptics and political opponents at home on the India-US nuclear deal.
"It is a forward looking and momentous decision," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement within hours of the waiver decision reaching New Delhi from Vienna.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left that had been opposed to the deal and had taken the lead in criticising the government on it decided to hold their fire till "details of the NSG waiver" was known.
However, BJP leader and former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha said with this India had virtually forfeited its right to test nuclear weapons on which the country had invested billions.
The nuclear deal is now headed for the US Congress, which meets on Sept 8 to discuss an approval for the 123 India-US bilateral agreement that will bring the landmark nuclear deal to its closure over three years after it was first conceptualised.
US President George W Bush called Manmohan Singh soon after the NSG announced its decision to give the "clean waiver" to India.
Bush had also called up Chinese President Hu Jintao to enlist his support at the NSG meeting in Vienna on Friday night.
Politically, it will be extremely important for the Congress leadership and the prime minister to sell this deal to the people. Though government sources maintained “no major changes” were brought in the draft, it is not clear yet whether it fits with the description of a “clean waiver”.
Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told reporters in Vienna soon after the NSG meeting got over: “From what we understand, it is a decision that enables full civil nuclear cooperation between India and the NSG members.”
Menon clarified that he will not be able to comment any more on it since "it is the property of the NSG".
There was no press briefing by Germany, the current chair of the NSG. It will release the waiver text only later through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
"We regard this decision as an ongoing process between India and the international community in cooperating in civil nuclear energy as a contribution to global energy security and meeting the challenges of climate change and sustainable development in India," Menon said.
The foreign secretary's cautious remarks did not dampen the spirit of the Indian contingent, many of whom had walked over neighbouring buildings, to celebrate the "historic" day.
Gulab jamuns were distributed and there were smiles and hugs all over as people thanked each other on the success.
The NSG decision came after three days of hard-nosed bargaining behind closed doors after it became clear that India will not settle for anything but a "clean waiver." The NSG guidelines forbid trade with a country like India that is not a signatory to the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.
It was External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's statement on Friday afternoon, detailing India's nuclear stand, its commitment to non-proliferation and its re-affirmation to the "voluntary moratorium" on further tests, that seemed to play a key role in convincing the NSG members.
All decisions in the NSG are taken by consensus and, therefore, getting the support of all the 45 members for the India specific waiver was essential.
India is not a member of the NSG and had to rely mainly on the US, and to some extent on France, Russia and the United Kingdom to argue its case before the powerful cartel that controls global supply of nuclear fuel and technology.
Six countries, Austria, Ireland, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland, that had been insisting on including a provision in the draft to cut off all trade with India if it conducted another test, started relenting after the minister's statement was discussed in detail by the NSG members.
A new draft with some changes in the language was prepared by the US on Friday night and put before Indian officials for approval. After New Delhi gave its nod, the 'changed draft' was placed before the NSG members.
At least three - Switzerland, Netherlands and Norway - seemed convinced by Mukherjee's statement. The remaining three-holdout countries, also started softening their stand when they realised the mood had begun to change in favour of the waiver in the NSG.
When the 45-members decided to take the unusual decision of going for a third day to discuss the draft it became clear that a "clean waiver" was on its way for India.
Mukherjee, who played a key role in the negotiations and was part of the hectic consultation that continued between Indian and US officials till early morning on Saturday, described the NSG decision as a "landmark achievement."
India and the US are now expected to formally sign the bilateral pact, most likely when Manmohan Singh goes to Washington towards the end of September, that will restore nuclear trade with the US after a gap of 34 years.
Economic sanctions were imposed on India by the US and others after it conducted its first nuclear test in 1974.
The NSG's waiver also frees India to sign bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreements with France and Russia, leading advocates of the nuclear deal, who also used their clout to win over sceptics in the nuclear cartel.