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Why Friday's IAEA meet is crucial for India

Lalitha Vaidyanathan in Vienna | July 31, 2008 10:14 IST

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As India hopes to resume nuclear commerce with the global community after a gap of 34 years, the International Atomic Energy Agency's Board of Governors meets in Vienna [Images] on Friday in a crucial session to consider the safeguards agreement for approval -- a key step for operationalisation of the Indo-United States nuclear deal.

If the 35-member Board approves the India-specific safeguards agreement by consensus leading to the signing of an unprecedented document, it would pave the way for India's integration into the world of nuclear commerce.

Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Anil Kakodkar, who has already arrived here, will have a series of meetings to ensure a smooth sailing at the IAEA Board of Governors and the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, sources said.

He is expected to hold talks with all NSG members to bring them on board for giving India a 'clean and unconditional waiver' ahead of the group's first meeting early next month. India is a member of the IAEA but not the NSG.

Kakodkar told PTI that he would take part in all discussions including the negotiations that are underway on an Additional Protocol with the IAEA.

The IAEA agreement will form the basis for approaching the Nuclear Suppliers Group for removal of restrictions on nuclear trade with India and the so-called bilateral agreement with US in the form of the 123 agreement.

New Delhi [Images] is working on an India-specific 'Additional Protocol'. There is a possibility that the IAEA Board might insist that the India-specific 'Additional Protocol' is signed along with the safeguards agreement to enable operationalisation of inspection of the nuclear units declared by New Delhi as civil.

An agreement on the 'Additional Protocol' is mandatory as per the Indo-US joint statement on the civil nuclear cooperation of July 18, 2005, which was issued during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's [Images] Washington visit.

Additional protocol is just not another document but an instrument to operationalise and set forth a protocol to enable the agency to carry out its mandate as per the agreement, experts said.

Meanwhile, the US is preparing a note to circulate among the 45 NSG member countries next week, after Friday's IAEA meeting.

A draft of that note was supposed to have been given to the Indian government for their opinion before finalising it, a US strategic planner said.

Twenty-six of the IAEA board members are also part of the NSG.

On July 18, New Delhi had organised a meeting to brief members of the IAEA board and NSG on the India-specific safeguards agreement.
The IAEA and NSG agreements are expected to lead to several bilateral cooperation pacts with countries such as France [Images] and Russia [Images] in the near future.

Russia has explicitly said that for future reactors to be set up at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu, the agreement with the IAEA is required.

Once New Delhi is out of the shackles of the embargo imposed 34 years ago following the Pokharan nuclear tests, there is scope for many such agreements to be reached to open nuclear commerce for India for imports as well as exports.

In other words, an IAEA agreement, though no doubt originating with the requirement set forth by the US to have a nuclear agreement with India, has much deeper implications in the international context.

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