IAEA approves India specific Nuclear Safeguards

Governors of the UN nuclear watchdog approved an inspections plan for India by consensus on Friday, a key step towards finalising the Indo-US nuclear deal, diplomats in the closed meeting said.The accord would open up to India the world market in atomic materials and technology for civilian use. With the go-ahead from International Atomic Energy Agency governors, Washington must persuade a 45-nation nuclear supply cartel to grant India a waiver allowing trade with a non-NPT state, then get US Congress ratification, to sew up the deal. The initial Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meeting on India is expected to be held on August 21-22, diplomats said. The IAEA's director told concerned agency governors that the inspections scheme met non-proliferation safeguards standards and talks had begun on a system of more intrusive, short-notice checks. Washington and close allies say the deal ushers giant India towards the non-proliferation mainstream and fights global warming by promoting use of low-polluting nuclear energy in surging developing economies, reducing high oil and gas costs as well. Some smaller Western and developing nations and disarmament groups are concerned the accord could undermine loyalty to a 40-year-old NPT already strained by a thrust for nuclear power, led by Iran, in the volatile Middle East. Diplomats had said IAEA board approval of the inspections draft was certain because, despite qualms about vague language, it marks a net gain for non-proliferation by putting the bulk of Indian reactors under UN scrutiny. The "umbrella safeguards agreement" applies to India's 14 declared civilian nuclear reactors, among the total of 22.

"As with other safeguards agreements between the agency and member states, the agreement is of indefinite duration. There are no conditions for discontinuation ... other than those provided by the safeguards agreement itself," El Baradei said.Some diplomats were concerned such language might allow India to halt inspections unilaterally if nuclear fuel imports were cut off, for example in response to another nuclear test, although India is observing a voluntary moratorium.ElBaradei touched on another area of concern by announcing that talks with India on a system of short-notice, wider-ranging inspections, known as the IAEA's Additional Protocol, had begun.Progress towards more intrusive inspections could help win over sceptical members of the NSG, which is expected to hold its first meeting on India on Aug. 21-22.Washington and New Delhi have lobbied other countries hard -- 26 of the 35 IAEA board members also are in the NSG -- to advance the deal, with time fast running out before U.S. politics pause for November elections.

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