ISLAMABAD: In what may be called a major setback for Indian ambitions to join the nuclear trade cartel, consensus continued to elude the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) at its last meeting in Vienna held for considering admission of non-NPT countries.

Although last week’s meeting was meant to discuss the technical, legal and political matters relating to non-NPT members’ (India and Pakistan) accession to the NSG, the Indian case took the spotlight because of US pressure for getting India into the group before the end of the year.

The extraordinary plenary session of the 48-member group that regulates international nuclear commerce had been specially convened for this purpose.

At least 12 NSG members at the meeting called for a criteria-based approach. These included China, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Italy, Ireland, Switzerland, Austria, New Zealand, Belgium, Brazil and Russia, according to a source aware of the proceedings at the Vienna plenary.

India has been blaming Beijing for being the chief blocker.

At the meeting, China maintained that any formula worked out should be non-discriminatory and applicable to all non-NPT states; without prejudice to the core value of the NSG and the effectiveness, authority and integrity of the international non-proliferation regime with the NPT as its cornerstone; and without contradicting the customary international law in the field of non-proliferation.

China told the NSG members that it was ready to work with all parties to promote early progress by the group in this regard, according to a Chinese statement.

The source claimed that there was growing support for developing criteria for non-NPT states and the Chinese proposal for a two-step approach for new admissions which involved developing criteria in the first stage and then inviting applications for membership.

The source said the development was not surprising because the mood of the NSG members before the meeting had clearly pointed towards the continuing stalemate.

It was the second time in a year that an NSG plenary ended without an agreement on the question of membership of non-NPT states.

The Seoul meeting held in June this year had, after failing to achieve consensus, decided to continue deliberations on the “technical, legal and political aspects of the participation of non-NPT states”. The NSG chair had then appointed Ambassador Rafael Grossi as facilitator for negotiations among the member countries on the issue.

Mr Grossi submitted his recommendations at the plenary session, which were allegedly tailored to support the Indian candidature. The participating countries differed sharply with his proposals.

Since the cartel works through consensus, the suggested formula could not be adopted.

Pakistan, which is also a candidate for the NSG membership, feels encouraged by the increasing support for well-defined and neutral membership criteria for non-NPT candidates.

“The position taken by a greater number of members suits us,” a Pakistani official said.

From Pakistan’s perspective it was a progress given that earlier India was presented as a candidate ready for entry because of the waiver granted to it in 2008.

Published in Dawn November 17th, 2016

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