Washington, Nov. 13: The board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is likely to take a preliminary look at two documents to be signed between India and the UN nuclear watchdog on November 23.
Unwilling to lose any time following a thaw with the Left on the Indo-US nuclear deal, the UPA government has
already asked India’s governor to the IAEA board to be in readiness to negotiate the key documents with the board when it reconvenes in Vienna on November 22.
Sources in Vienna said an additional protocol to be signed by India and a safeguards agreement are likely to come up for consideration of the 35-member board on the second day of its meeting.
The Left has indicated that the government was free to pursue talks with the IAEA as long as the agreement was not finalised.
Although the government is keen to strike while the iron is hot and move one step closer to operationalisation of the nuclear deal with the US, the latest developments do not mean that an Indian signature on the two documents is imminent.
New Delhi is relieved, for instance, that Egypt, a perennial opponent of India on the IAEA floor is out of the board this year, but it is expecting opposition on both the documents from some members.
Pakistan is a member of the board. So is China.
Decisions by the board are usually by consensus: a rare case of voting was in 2006 over referring Iran’s nuclear programme to the UN Security Council.
The thaw with the Left and the imminent talks with the IAEA are said to have been behind Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s surprise decision in Moscow not to sign an “inter-governmental agreement” with the Russians for the construction of four more reactors in Kudankulam.
The Prime Minister is said to have been pressured that the US would scale down its support for India at the IAEA and in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) if he signed the agreement in Moscow.
The agreement would have given the Russians a definite edge in the race for India’s nuclear power business over the Americans.
South Block was convinced that India could not carry through its case in the NSG, which controls the global nuclear commerce, without the aggressive support of Washington.
As for the IAEA, it was felt that board members would resent New Delhi’s decision to seemingly get the better of them and bypass the existing nuclear regime in striking a bilateral arrangement with Moscow.
Sources in Vienna said the IAEA director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, has been so supportive of India that he conveyed his willingness during a recent visit to Mumbai to call an extraordinary board meeting in 72 hours whenever New Delhi was ready to sign the agreements with the IAEA.
The same, however, cannot be said of the IAEA’s negotiating staff, many of whom view India as a wrecker of the current global non-proliferation regime.
This poses difficulties for New Delhi as gets into the nitty-gritty of talks in Vienna.