Shivshankar Menon leaves Vienna for NSG meet

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{image-Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon_19082008.jpg}New Delhi, Aug 19: Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon will leave for Vienna on Tuesday, Aug 19 to attend the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meeting.

Menon will lead a high-level team at a formal meeting with the NSG troika of Germany, South Africa and Hungary. The team includes Prime Minister's Special Envoy Shyam Saran, Department of Atomic Energy (DAE)'s RB Grover and D B Venkatesh Varma from the Indian mission in Geneva. 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 any fears or doubts that the NSG might have about having nuclear commerce with it.

Germany, the NSG's current chair, has asked India to take the floor at the NSG meeting on August 21 to brief its members about the country's non-proliferation commitments and policies. India is quite apprehensive as the 45-member NSG is not offering full-fledged membership to it. It is also concerned that the briefing to the plenary session is bound to lead to questions and requests from participating governments for clarifications about Indian policy and the language of the proposed NSG waiver.

India wants to be clear about the precise parameters and protocols of any briefing session so as to avoid being confronted at the plenary with demands for changes to the draft exemption. It expects the NSG to approve the exemption "without any change to the draft that was circulated to them recently."

Ahead of the NSG meeting, a high-level meeting was held in New Delhi on Monday. The meeting was attended by Menon, National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and the Department of Atomic Energy officials.

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration has stepped up its efforts to expedite the implementation of the US-India civil nuclear deal by getting it cleared by the NSG before it heads to the US Congress for a vote. 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 US 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 join non-proliferation agreements.

Three steps are required to operationalise the 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 US and European nuclear supplier companies and would give India more energy alternatives to drive its development.


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