Washington, Aug. 18: The Congress leadership does not have the luxury of sitting out on the virtual ultimatum given by the Left parties today against operationalising the Indo-US nuclear deal.
The board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is scheduled to meet in Vienna in approximately three weeks — from September 10 to 14.
The Manmohan Singh government will lose all credibility on its efforts to secure advanced technology for nuclear power production if it does not aggressively pursue its efforts to secure the board’s approval for “an” additional protocol and an India-specific safeguards agreement at this meeting.
The government has been working overtime to get these documents approved by the board and the IAEA General Conference, which is also due to take place in Vienna from September 17 to 21.
An Indian draft of an additional protocol and an India-specific safeguards agreement have been in circulation within the IAEA since late 2005 and have come up with no objections from the secretariat of the global nuclear watchdog organisation.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA’s director general, has been extremely supportive of the deal and the Indian draft documents, according to UN sources in the Austrian capital.
In fact, ElBaradei has scheduled an IAEA Scientific Forum on “Global Challenges and the Development of Atomic Energy: The Next 25 Years” in Vienna on September 18 and 19 tailored to meet New Delhi’s requirements related to civil nuclear cooperation with advanced nuclear powers.
All these efforts in favour of India’s quest for a place in the exclusive nuclear club will come to nought if the Congress leadership caves in to the Left ultimatum on not proceeding with negotiations in Vienna.
At the time of writing, Anil Kakodkar, the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, is scheduled to lead the Indian delegation to this year’s IAEA General Conference.
India’s permanent representative to the UN in Vienna, Sheel Kant Sharma, will represent India at the board meeting.
If India gives up its negotiations with the IAEA at this stage, approval of the agreements needed to operationalise the nuclear deal and get it approved by the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) will have to await the IAEA General Conference next year. IAEA sources said that is likely to take place only on September 29, 2008.
Freezing the ongoing negotiations between India and the IAEA on the one hand and between India and the Nuclear Suppliers Group on the other, will effectively kill the Indo-US nuclear deal.
Nicholas Burns, the top US negotiator on the deal, has already said that the 123 Agreement will not be put up on Capitol Hill for approval until India signs the safeguards pact with the IAEA and secures NSG approval for the deal.
If the IAEA approval is delayed until September 2008, it is likely that a new US Congress — perhaps a new US President as well — may have to deal with following up the deal. That raises many question marks about the survival of the deal itself.
The IAEA board will meet again in late November this year. India is due to be re-elected to the board for another two-year term at the upcoming General Conference.
Although there will be the formality of an election, India is usually proposed by the director general every time for re-election since it is a state with advanced nuclear technology, including a full fuel cycle. But it will be a rather sheepish Kakodkar who will take his place in the next board if he has to backtrack on the nuclear deal after sticking his neck out in favour of the 123 Agreement last month.
As a board member, India is routinely nominated every time to chair its Mesa (Middle East and South Asia) sub-committee.
Delhi’s representatives who serve on the sub-committee will have diminished authority to fulfil their role if they are now seen as not having the backing of India’s Parliament, UN diplomats in Vienna worry in the wake of today’s developments.