Friday, August 22, 2008

Small states wary of nuclear deal for India

Glenn Kessler in Washington

Pact … Mr Bush and the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh.
Pact . . . Mr Bush and the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh.
Photo: AP

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A BUSH Administration proposal to exempt India from restrictions on nuclear trade has aroused scepticism from several members of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, according to diplomats, making it increasingly unlikely a deal will be reached in two-day meetings that begin today in Vienna.

India and the US have lobbied the group for approval of a landmark civil nuclear deal. But the conference, which governs trade in reactors and uranium, operates by consensus, which allows even small nations to block or amend significantly any agreement.

India has warned nations that a failure to support the deal could harm their ties with India. Although previously undecided countries such as Canada, Japan and Australia have recently signalled they will support the deal - which President George Bush considers part of his foreign-policy legacy - a few nations, including New Zealand and Ireland, have expressed private and public concerns about the proposal.

“We’ve raised questions throughout the process, particularly in relation to the implications to the non-proliferation treaty,” said an Irish diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He acknowledged it was an important document for the US and India and that said talks were continuing.

Last month Condoleezza Rice made the first visit to NZ by a US secretary of state in nine years, in part to lobby for the deal.

But the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, recently said: “It would be no secret that we would like to see more conditionalities around the agreement.” She added that her nation was pursuing the matter diplomatically with like-minded countries.

More than 150 non-government organisations and non-proliferation experts from 24 countries last week sent a letter to conference members appealing for significant conditions to be placed on India, such as promising to terminate trade if New Delhi resumed nuclear testing.

US officials said they increasingly believed an agreement would not be reached this week. Instead, a second meeting probably would be needed next month, leaving little time for final approval by US Congress during this session.

The Hyde Act, which the US passed in 2006 giving preliminary approval to the US-India pact, requires that Congress be in 30 days of continuous session to consider the deal. But Congress cannot take up the agreement until the conference approves it, and politicians plan to adjourn for the year on September 26.

India is one of a handful of countries that have not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. After India conducted a nuclear test in 1974, the US pushed to create the conference to close loopholes that had allowed India to advance its weapons program through supposedly peaceful nuclear co-operation. The controls have been so effective that India’s use of nuclear power has been severely limited.

The Washington Post

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