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Vienna: India walks NSG tightrope

Ajay Kaul in Vienna | September 05, 2008 15:47 IST

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The draft waiver for India at the Nuclear Suppliers Group may go down to the wire with some countries holding on to their reservations as the US pushed hard to forge a consensus.

As the 45-nation group met for the second day to consider an exemption for India, frantic efforts were on both by Indian and US officials to persuade the skeptic members to shed their opposition and give a green signal to enable the Indo-US nuclear deal to go forward. The nuclear cartel's decision on the issue can make or break India's prospects of doing nuclear commerce with the international community after 34 years.

As the US said the talks have progressed, senior Indian officials met representatives of the few member countries of the NSG in an effort to persuade them to support the waiver for New Delhi [Images]. The informal parleys ahead of the second day of the NSG discussions came as delegates to the body expressed optimism over a consensus to bring India into the nuclear fold.

"We are close to a consensus. There may be a statement for the press today," a western diplomat, who refused to be identified either by name or country, said after the delegates considered a revised US draft waiver. The draft waiver included provisions like the NSG Chair informing the nuclear club about India's adherence to its guidelines after holding consultations with the country, a move aimed at pacifying countries having reservations. Asked about the countries that have raised questions and expressed reservations over a clean waiver, the diplomat said they are positive and flexible.

"I believe we are making steady progress in this process and we will continue to make progress," US Undersecretary of State William Burns had said at the end of the first round. An NSG waiver is a key step in the operationalisation of the nuclear deal which will go to the US Congress for approval once the atomic cartel gives the green light. Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and Prime Minister's Special Envoy Shyam Saran met diplomats of dissenting countries soon after the deliberations of the opening day of the two-day meeting of the NSG concluded on Friday, in an attempt to allay their apprehensions.

Some members of the grouping are still resisting the contentious issues whether or not there should be a ban on testing in the NSG waiver. The skeptic countries want the NSG waiver to have a clause for termination of cooperation if India were to conduct a nuclear test.

India is strongly opposed to such conditions being included in the NSG exemption and a compromise language in the draft waiver is being worked out. Diplomats are expected to informally hammer out an acceptable formulation which can be brought to the table today. Some of them were confident of a breakthrough without the NSG having to meet for the third time to consider the revised American draft. The revised draft was prepared by the US in consultation with India after at least 15 countries sought amendments in the original text during the last NSG meeting on August 21-22.

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