India hopeful of wrapping up n-deal by September: Sibal

By Manish Chand, IANS,

New Delhi : India is “hopeful” of getting the support of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and wrapping up its nuclear accord with the US by September, Science and Technology Minister Kabil Sibal said before leaving for Finland and Sweden.

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“I will be going to Finland and Sweden tonight. The response is positive,” Sibal told IANS in an interview here when asked about whether India was confident of getting the support of the 45-nation NSG for the deal which seeks to re-open doors of global nuclear business for India.

“Let’s see what happens. We are hopeful they will support us,” Sibal, who returned from Geneva Friday morning, said when asked about his impression of skeptics in the NSG who have some reservations about the nuclear deal.

Sibal confirmed that the IAEA board was meeting on Aug 1 to decide on approving the India-specific safeguards pact and expressed confidence that the proposed pact will mass muster with the UN watchdog.

“The process is on. Beyond that I don’t want to say anything right now,” Sibal added on a cautious note.

“Hopefully, we should be able to,” Sibal replied when asked whether India was confident of wrapping up the nuclear deal with the US by September as Washington indicated two days ago.

Sibal also underlined that India was hopeful of getting support of China with whom the country’s relations have grown significantly over the last few years.

Every country counts in the NSG as it operates by consensus.

A couple of days ago, US ambassador David Mulford had said that the US was keen to convene the meeting of the NSG in the first week of August after the approval of the India-specific safeguards agreement by the IAEA board at its meeting Aug 1.

The NSG process is likely to be completed in August so that the 123 agreement can be endorsed by the Congress in September before Washington and New Delhi ink the bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement.

Sibal is among a handful of ministers and diplomats who have been deputed by the government to go to various NSG countries and allay their concerns about some aspects of the nuclear deal which they suspect will impinge negatively on global non-proliferation regime.

Sibal’s brief is to convince two of the difficult countries in the 45-nation NSG — Finland and Sweden — which are known for strong non-proliferation sensitivities and have serious reservations about the very use of nuclear energy on safety and environmental grounds.

Sibal will underline India’s impeccable non-proliferation record and its need for environmentally clean nuclear energy to convince his interlocutors about the merits of the deal.

With a tight timeline for wrapping up the nuclear deal in view of the looming US presidential elections, India has scaled up its NSG diplomacy to win over some of the skeptics like Ireland, Finland, Norway, Austria and Australia and New Zealand.

Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma headed to Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa Friday from Singapore after meeting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and foreign ministers of NSG countries like Australia and New Zealand.

South Africa is a former chair of the NSG. The other three countries are members of the IAEA.