Thursday, September 04, 2008

Fresh India nuclear talks begin

TIMETABLE FOR NUCLEAR ACCORD
India's Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, located 30km from Mumbai (Bombay)
Approval required from 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group
US Congress to approve deal before President Bush signs it into law
All this to happen before Mr Bush's tenure expires in January 2009

The group of countries which regulates global nuclear trade is meeting in the Austrian capital, Vienna, to discuss a landmark Indian-US nuclear deal.

A waiver from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group would help India finalise the deal.

The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has already backed the controversial accord.

India's government says the deal is vital to meet its energy demands.

Critics of the deal say it creates a dangerous precedent - allowing India access to fuel and technology without requiring it to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as other countries must do.

Those opposed to lifting the ban say it would undermine the arguments for isolating Iran over its nuclear programme.

The two-day meeting in Vienna will consider a revised US proposal to lift the ban on nuclear trade with India, a key element of the landmark deal.

Reports say that some members of the NSG had expressed concern that the revisions were cosmetic and did not help in clearing the air about whether the deal would enable India to subvert agreements meant to stop production and testing of nuclear weapons.

'Huge difference'

Following the latest meetings, an unnamed diplomat was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency that the "outlook for consensus is dim because India and the US won't accept any references in the waiver text to automatic cessation of trade in case India tests another nuclear weapon".

Separately, a report in the Washington Post newspaper said that the Bush administration had told the US Congress in a "secret" letter that the US had the right to stop nuclear trade with India should the latter conduct a nuclear weapons test.

The letter to the late Tom Lantos, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said: "The fuel supply assurances are not, however, meant to insulate India against the consequences of a nuclear explosive test or a violation of non-proliferation commitments."

Communists demonstrate against nuclear deal
India's communists oppose a partnership with the US

India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Communists - former allies of the governing Congress party who withdrew support for the government over the nuclear deal - have said the contents of the letter show the government is "deceiving" the country.

"There is a huge difference between what the US government is telling its Congress and what our government is telling us," BJP leader Yashwant Sinha told reporters.

Indian officials made a presentation to explain India's policy to NSG members during the last round of meetings last month.

The nuclear deal is being strongly pushed by the Bush administration and must also be ratified by the US Congress.

The deal would allow India to enter the world market in nuclear fuel and technology - as long as it is for civilian purposes.

It had previously been banned from doing so under the terms of a 30-year embargo imposed because of its testing of atomic bombs and refusal to join the NPT.

In return, Delhi would open its civilian nuclear facilities to inspection - but its nuclear weapons sites would remain off-limits.

Correspondents say that 14 of India's 22 existing or planned reactors would come under regular IAEA surveillance if the deal goes ahead.

The US restricted nuclear co-operation with India after it first tested a nuclear weapon in 1974.

Critics fear assistance to India's civil programme could free-up additional radioactive material for bomb-making purposes.

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