India wins NSG waiver to end 34-year nuclear isolation

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Vienna/New Delhi, Sep 6 (UNI) In a momentous decision, the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) today lifted a three-decade-old ban on nuclear trade with India, bringing the country into the world nuclear mainstream after 34 years of isolation.

The unprecedented one-off waiver, on a US proposal, came after three days of hectic deliberations in the Austrian capital and set the stage for the clearance of the July 18, 2005 Indo-US civil nuclear initiative in the US Congress.

India described the NSG consensus decision as a ''landmark development'' and said it was a recognition of the country's ''impeccable non-proliferation credentials'' which would end its decades-long nuclear isolation.

In a statement in New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the NSG decision was ''forward looking and momentous.'' The Prime Minister spoke with US President George Bush on telephone immediately after the NSG approval and thanked him for his role in taking forward the civil nuclear initiative and the NSG decision to adjust its guidelines to enable full civil nuclear cooperation between India and the international community.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the final outcome fully met India's expectations and was consistent with the government policy and national consensus on disarmament and non-proliferation.

While the Congress-led UPA reacted with joy to the NSG decision, the opposition BJP called it a day of ''shame for India which had lost its nuclear sovereignty''. The Left parties maintained their opposition to the India-US nuclear deal.

The India-US agreement has to now cross just one last hurdle --- ratification by the US Congress which must act before adjourning in late September for elections or the deal could be at the mercy of a new US administration.

The NSG first met to consider the waiver on August 21-22 but could not take a decision as members expressed misgivings, given the fact that India had refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Priliferation Treaty (NPT) or ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

About 20 NSG countries proposed amendments following which the US worked on a revised draft which was presented to the September 4-6 meeting of the powerful grouping.

The decision finally came at the end of three days of feverish meetings and long-distance consultations during which the US mounted heavy pressure on several small NSG states to agree to weaker language than they had sought to ensure that India did not conduct nuclear tests again.

The last bits of resistance by countries such as Austria, New Zealand, Switzerland and Ireland frittered away after yesterday's statement by Mr Mukherjee reaffirming India's commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and its voluntary and unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests.

The statement had also said that India would not join any future nuclear arms race, would permit broader UN inspections and adhere to the NSG and IAEA guidelines.

The NSG consensus was also based on ''a number of understandings'' against exports of fuel-enrichment technology able to produce peaceful energy or bombs, diplomats said.

''Based on commitments in the political declaration of (India's foreign ministry), ''participating states have decided on the following policy'' -- the unprecedented waiver, the final of several revised US drafts for the move read.

Diplomats said the final draft cited only the need for a special NSG meeting if India reneged on its commitments.

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