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NSG entry on table

Vienna, June 24 (Reuters): The world body that controls nuclear exports will address the sensitive issue of closer ties with India, despite New Delhi being outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, at a two-day meeting starting in Buenos Aires on Thursday.

The US, Britain and others have argued that nuclear-armed India should join the secretive 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), established in 1975 to ensure that civilian atomic trade is not diverted for military purposes.

But other NSG states such as China have voiced doubt about accepting a country that built up a nuclear arsenal outside the 189-nation Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1970, set up to prevent states from acquiring nuclear arms.

Beijing’s reservations are believed to be influenced by its ties to Pakistan, which too has tested atomic bombs and is outside the NPT.

A diplomatic source said he did not expect any decision on the membership issue at the June 26-27 meeting, suggesting it would take more time. India would need the support of all the NSG states to join the cartel.

India today said it was ratifying an agreement, a so-called Additional Protocol, with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to expand oversight over its civilian nuclear programme.

The US said this marked another “important step in bringing India into the international non-proliferation mainstream”. But some critics questioned the step’s significance, as it would not affect India’s nuclear weapons programme and sensitive atomic fuel activities.

They said the Indian agreement was a much weaker version of a deal most other IAEA members have, giving the UN watchdog wide inspection powers to ensure there are no covert nuclear activities in these countries.

If India eventually becomes a member, it would be the only country in the group that has not signed the NPT.

Supporters say it is better if India is inside than outside the NSG as it is already an advanced nuclear energy power and will become a significant exporter. Sceptics argue it could erode the credibility of the NPT, a cornerstone of global nuclear disarmament efforts.

To receive civilian nuclear exports, nations other than the five officially recognised nuclear arms states — those that had known arsenals before the NPT was hatched — must usually place their nuclear activities under IAEA safeguards.

When the US sealed a nuclear supply deal with India in 2008, Washington won an NSG waiver from that rule after long and contentious negotiations in Vienna.