NSG to vote on 2nd September 2008

Even as diplomatic initiatives to ensure the support of all Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) countries hot up, India and the US have decided to schedule a second meeting of the group on September 2.The second meeting would be crucial as this is where the NSG countries will vote on whether to give India an exemption to undertake international nuclear trade.The first meeting scheduled for August 21 will give India and the US the opportunity to explain the merits of the India-US civilian nuclear trade and also answer any questions the NSG countries have on the exemption draft, which was circulated last week.New Zealand and some European countries, which have strong non-proliferation roots, are expected to raise objections. The gap between the two meetings has also been worked out in such a way so that representatives attending the August 21 meeting have time to go back and explain the deal to their respective governments. For India, Switzerland, New Zealand, Austria, Ireland and the Netherlands are the toughest NSG countries who have opposed exempting India for civilian nuclear trade.New Zealand and Austria are of the view that the Indian nuclear deal could become an issue for voters in their countries: Both countries go to polls — New Zealand in November and Austria in September. Both the US and France are seeking to convince New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark to vote in India’s favour. During her visit to Auckland in late July, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, too, pushed New Zealand to support of the deal.While the Netherlands and Spain, too, are not completely convinced of the deal, but are wary of an estrangement with the United States. Ireland and Switzerland continue to have concerns, while Norway will have to weigh allying with its Nato partner against a threat perception from Russia.Meanwhile, Japan too has expressed concern about the exemption for India and its impact on non-proliferation and disarmament. US assistant secretary of state Richard Boucher was in Tokyo last week attempting to convince a “reluctant” Japan. In its efforts to get Japan on board, the American official described the accord as a “practical way” of engaging New Delhi on non-proliferation. Stressing that India has made it clear that it would not sign the NPT, Mr Boucher said that the question “we are dealing with now is what is the best way to get more convergence between what we do within the non-proliferation treaty and what India does outside”. In spite of the ongoing diplomatic initiatives by the US and also India, getting consensus support of the NSG, which controls international civilian nuclear trade, is still being considered “tricky”.If the September 2 vote goes according to plan then the Bush administration will present the 123 Agreement to the US Congress on September 8 for the final step of the process to operationalise the nuclear deal. On the Capitol Hill, lobbying has already started to ensure the kind of bipartisan support that the Hyde Act got last year. However, experts and even officials agree that this time round it is going to be a little more difficult with Congressmen and senators preoccupied with the elections.

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