Vienna, Aug 21 : The crucial two-day meeting of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) begins here today to decide on whether to grant India access to nuclear fuel and technology.
The NSG's plenary session is expected to discuss the possibility of granting India an exemption from its restrictive export rules. India is standing by its "excellent non-proliferation record" and will seek to allay fears or doubts that the NSG might have about having nuclear commerce with it.
The NSG waiver for India will mean the government can enter into nuclear commerce with countries like Russia and France, irrespective of what happens to the 123 Agreement on the Indo-US civilian nuclear co-operation in the US Congress.
American diplomats said on Wednesday that it is unlikely that a deal will be reached in two-day meetings. Instead, they said, a second NSG meeting probably will need to be held next month, leaving little time for final approval by the US Congress in September session.
Both India and the United States have lobbied vigorously for approval of the deal. But the NSG, which governs trade in reactors and uranium, operates by consensus, allowing even small nations to block or significantly amend any agreement.
About half the NSG countries have reportedly agreed to co-sponsor the US request to grant a waiver to India while, Austria and New Zealand were holding up the approval.
On the other hand, countries known for nuclear industries like France, Russia, UK and US want to start nuclear commerce with India.
An Indian delegation headed by Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, which is in Vienna, held a special briefing for the members of the NSG and representatives of the NSG Troika -- Germany, South Africa and Hungary last night.
The approval of the India Specific Safeguards pact by the International Atomic Energy Agency has paved the way for the NSG meetings.
The Indo-US civilian nuclear deal aims to lift a three-decade ban on the sale of U.S. nuclear fuel and reactors to India, imposed after it conducted a nuclear test in 1974, while staying out of international non-proliferation agreements.
Once formalised, the deal would give India access to U.S. nuclear fuel and equipment for the first time in 30 years, even though New Delhi has tested nuclear weapons and has refused to sign the non-proliferation agreements.
Three steps are required to operationalise the Indo-US nuclear deal namely, safeguards agreement with the IAEA, amendment in the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group's charter and the passing of the 123-agreement by the US Congress.
The nuke deal, which has been clouded in controversy but gives India access to the U.S. nuclear fuel and technology, is potentially worth billions of dollars to the U.S. and European nuclear supplier companies and would give India more energy alternatives needed for its development.