Washington, Aug. 22: While the Left parties and the Congress are quarrelling over the next steps towards operationalising the nuclear deal, the deadline for formal consideration of any India-specific agreement by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) this year has quietly passed.
According to IAEA officials in Vienna, August 17 — one month before the start of the organisation’s General Conference — was the deadline for including any item in the agenda for the annual meeting.
“Should the Director General receive by 17 August 2007 any request under Rule 13 for inclusion of a supplementary item in the agenda, such an item will, unless Rule 21 applies, be placed in a list which will be circulated no later than 27 August 2007,” according to an IAEA circular sent out to member countries as part of preparations for the annual meeting.
Officials said that till the passing of the deadline, New Delhi had not given notice of any India-specific item related to the nuclear deal to be included in the General Conference next month.
Whether an act of omission or commission, it may provide an olive branch in the standoff between the Left and the Congress that could be the starting point for a compromise.
The IAEA’s next General Conference will take place only from September 29, 2008, which will give the ruling alliance enough time to either sort out the nuclear tangle or split up and seek a new popular mandate.
By then, however, the nuclear deal may be dead for practical reasons. The US will be only a few weeks away from elections for a new president and a new Congress. It is highly unlikely that a president with three-and-a-half months left in transition will have the political capital to see through the passage of the 123 Agreement in his legislature.
The US Congress may itself decide that it is best left to a new legislature to take a view of the 123 pact in consultation with a successor White House.
The provisional agenda for next month’s IAEA General Conference, however, has loopholes to take a view on issues related to the nuclear deal even past the August 17 deadline if the Manmohan Singh government takes a hard line and decides not to give in to the Left ultimatum.
According to the provisional agenda, which has been distributed among ambassadors in Vienna accredited to the UN, there are two items of interest to New Delhi.
Item 16 refers to “strengthening the Agency’s technical cooperation activities” while item 18 refers to “strengthening the effectiveness and improving the efficiency of the safeguards system and application of the model additional protocol”.
If the Indian delegation to the General Conference, which is likely to be led by Anil Kakodkar, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, is determined or creative enough to use these loopholes, they may still be able to push in their priorities — or at least discuss the Indian issues, if only to gauge the mood in the global nuclear watchdog.
If this is the Indian strategy, neither the India-specific safeguards agreement nor “an” additional protocol need go to the IAEA Board of Governors beforehand.
The board is meeting from September 10 to 14 but will reconvene on November 22 and 23.
By that time, the crisis in the UPA may have been sorted out one way or another and Kakodkar would have obtained a sense of the mood in the IAEA at the General Conference before India can approach the board for the next steps in the nuclear deal.