Washington, May 4: The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which regulates global trade in nuclear technology and equipment, is divided over extending support to the Bush administration's civilian nuclear deal with India.
''I haven't counted the numbers, but it's a big group of countries that have expressed concerns, (about lending support to the deal),'' the Chairman of the US-backed, 45-nation NSG Ambassador Roald Naess of Norway, today said in an interview with Bloomberg News.
The NSG reaches decisions by consensus after informal discussions, Mr Naess, a former American diplomat, said and added ''My guess is that this issue is not ripe for a decision''.
Legislation to endorse the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal is pending before the US Congress. The deal would lift a 30-year ban and allow India access to the United States' sensitive nuclear technology and reactors in exchange for which India has agreed to bring its civil reactors under international safeguards on a permanent basis.
The Bush Administration had assured India that it would seek to exempt New Delhi from the NSG's export controls, which bar sales of nuclear fuel and technology to countries that haven't signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
President George W Bush needs approval from the NSG to accommodate the deal, which would let US companies such as Fairfield, Connecticut-based General Electric Co sell nuclear fuel and power plant equipment to India, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the House International Relations Committee in April.
''It would be wrong to say that the United States can unilaterally deliver this deal,'' Rice said in her testimony ''We can't. That's why it has to go to the Nuclear Suppliers Group.'' A lack of consensus in the NSG may delay completion of the agreement for several months according to Charles Ferguson, a former State Department nuclear safety official, who's now at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, the Bloomberg news report said.
The report added that the US negotiators are no longer hopeful the issue may be resolved when NSG members meet in Rio de Janeiro next month.
One possible US strategy now may be to seek congressional action to allow the India agreement to go forward and then ask the NSG to convene a special meeting, Bloomberg said quoting an unnamed the Bush administration official.
However Ferguson said US lawmakers instead may want to wait for the NSG to act before deciding whether to change anti- proliferation law.
According to the Bloomberg report sepresentatives of some NSG countries have met with Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
''They are not opposed, but they are very concerned,'' Mr Biden told Rice at an April 5 hearing.
The Bush administration contends that India would use US nuclear fuel and technology only for peaceful purposes. Rice and other officials say India should be rewarded for voluntarily adhering to NSG guidelines and safeguarding its nuke technology.
India is relying on the agreement with the US to ease its dependence on fossil fuels, especially coal, Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia, said in Washington last month.
''Energy' is a major constraint on our growth,'' Mr Ahluwalia said.
Asia's fourth-largest economy expanded 7.6 per cent in the third fiscal quarter from a year earlier, after gaining 8 per cent in the previous three months.
''Many NSG countries seek good relations with India, which might temper their willingness to oppose the deal outright,'' the Bloomberg report said quoting Robert Einhorn, a former assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation.