Menon, Burns discuss strategy for clean NSG waiver

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : India’s Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon Monday plunged into a day of hectic diplomacy here to fine-tune a waiver acceptable to the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) without adding any new conditions.

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Shortly after his arrival here this morning, Menon accompanied by Indian ambassador to the US Ronen Sen went straight into a session with US Undersecretary of State William Burns, who has taken place of Nick Burns, Washington’s former key negotiator on the India-US nuclear deal.

Menon is also meeting President George W. Bush’s acting National Security Adviser James Geoffrey in the afternoon.

The nuclear cartel that controls global trade of nuclear fuel and know-how had last week failed to reach a consensus at its Vienna conclave on giving India a clean waiver in the face of objections from some sceptics. It meets again Sep 4-5 to decide on the India-specific waiver.

Menon and Burns would attempt to fine-tune the language of the exemption that will accommodate concerns of sceptical NSG countries as well as interests of India before it is discussed at the second NSG meeting.

Sceptics at the NSG, including Scandinavian countries, Ireland, Austria and Switzerland, have reportedly demanded changes in the draft of the waiver to include their concerns about testing, periodic review of India’s compliance and restricting export of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technologies.

India is pushing for a clean waiver and has made it clear that it will not accept any “prescriptive conditionalities” that could effectively sabotage the deal.

Apart from discussing how to sell the deal to the nuclear cartel, Burns may also brief Menon on Washington’s plans to get the necessary Congressional approval for the deal in the narrow time window left before the legislature adjourns for the year Sep 26.

The US enabling law, the Hyde Act, requires that Congress be in 30 days of continuous session to consider the deal. But Congress can waive the rules, extend the session to accommodate the India deal or meet again in a lame-duck session after the Nov 4 elections to do the job.

Joseph R. Biden, the newly named Democratic vice presidential nominee, has vowed to push the India-US nuclear deal in Congress “like the devil” as chairman of the powerful US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But a few other lawmakers have served notice that they would oppose the deal if it was not in tune with the Hyde Act.

Howard L. Berman, Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, for one has sent Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice a letter saying he found it “incomprehensible” that the administration is seeking an NSG exemption for India with “few or none of the conditions” contained in the Hyde Act.

He warned that a failure to include such conditions in the NSG agreement would doom consideration of the US-India deal in the current Congress.

Menon’s talks with Burns are taking place in the backdrop of a public assurance from the US that Washington and New Delhi will “stand shoulder-to-shoulder” in pushing for “a clean exemption” in the NSG for lifting the ban on nuclear commerce with India.

Washington’s assurance came from US Ambassador to India David Mulford in a statement in New Delhi underlining the US “commitment to working with India to rapidly complete the remaining steps necessary to conclude the US-India civil nuclear cooperation initiative”.

“The US and India stand shoulder-to-shoulder in their desire for a clean exemption and we will continue to work with our Indian partners to persuade the NSG countries that such an exemption is in the international community’s best interest,” he said.

“Ahead of the scheduled NSG plenary on Sep 4, the US and India will continue our vigorous joint advocacy for the initiative at the highest levels of NSG governments,” Mulford said.