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WASHINGTON: The United States, while acknowledging Pakistan’s application to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), has said that the request will be decided by a consensus.

Last week, Pakistan submitted a formal application in Vienna for joining the NSG. “The decision to seek participation in the export control regime reflects Pakistan’s strong support for international efforts to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery,” said a statement issued in Islamabad.

Asked to comment on Pakistan’s request, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: “They have made public their interest, and certainly any country can submit its application for membership. And we’ll consider [it] based on a consensus decision.”

Founded in response to the Indian nuclear test in May 1974, the 48-member NSG seeks to reduce proliferation by controlling the export and re-transfer of nuclear materials.

Although Indian nuclear tests caused the concerned nations to form this body, now India too wants to join the NSG, as it believes that this would lead to its recognition as a nuclear power.

The United States supports India’s application.

NSG members are meeting in South Korea next month to discuss India’s request for entry and other issues but Mr Toner said at his news briefing on Friday that this meeting had not been called to discuss India’s membership, although this was one of the issues that might come up.

A key US Senator, Ed Markey, has warned that enabling India to join the NSG would cause a “never-ending” nuclear race in South Asia.

“What you are doing is creating an action-reaction that is leading to a never-ending escalation cycle that ultimately leads to development of nuclear weapons, including battlefield nuclear weapons,” Senator Markey said.

“Making these exemptions further infuriates Pakistan into further expanding its nuclear capacity. It is a very dangerous long-term trend, especially when we are so concerned on the spectre of nuclear weapons falling in the hands of non-state actors,” he cautioned.

But the State Department disregarded his concerns.

“This is not about an arms race and it’s not about nuclear weapons. This is about the peaceful civil use of nuclear energy, and so we would certainly hope that Pakistan understands that,” Mr Toner said.

The US official explained that deliberations about the prospects of new members joining the NSG were an internal matter among the current members.

Asked if he believed the US had been able to “generate a consensus” within the NSG in India’s favour, Mr Toner said: “All I can say is that during his visit to India in 2015, President Obama did affirm the US view that India meets missile technology control regime requirements and is ready for membership. But it’s a consensus body, so we’ll wait and see how the vote goes.”

China, which is a member of the NSG, has blocked India’s entry.

On May 13, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in Beijing said that several other NSG members were supporting its move to block India.

Mr Lu said that there were many within the group who felt that signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was the cornerstone for safeguarding the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and India had not signed this treaty yet. Senator Markey had also stressed this point while opposing India’s application for the NSG.

Asked about reports that China was pushing Pakistan’s entry into NSG linking it to India’s admission into the bloc, Mr Lu said that NSG was an important part of NPT and this issue should be settled first, before opening the door to other members.

During a visit to China earlier this week, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee told Chinese leaders that India should be allowed entry into the NSG on the basis of its own credentials and should not be linked to Pakistan in any way.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2016