Ireland cautious on nuclear trade deal for India


INDIA:IRELAND IS among a group of countries that have expressed reservations about a US proposal to allow India participate in nuclear trade, with Irish diplomats raising concerns about its possible effects on the international non-proliferation regime.

Washington is eager to secure agreement from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on the landmark deal that would grant a waiver from its rules to enable India to receive nuclear fuel and technology, despite the fact that the Asian country is not part of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The NSG controls trade in nuclear fuel, materials and technology to ensure they are used only for civilian nuclear energy, and not for clandestine atomic weapons programmes.

NSG regulations stipulate that the body does business only with countries belonging to the NPT. Only India, Pakistan and Israel have not signed up to the NPT.

The governing body was established in response to India's first nuclear weapons test more than three decades ago, which signalled its move from running a civilian nuclear programme to developing an atomic arsenal.

The NSG, which is currently chaired by Germany, convened for a two-day meeting in Vienna yesterday to discuss the issue.

Both India and the US have lobbied hard for the NSG to approve the deal, but the body operates by consensus, allowing even small nations to stymie or significantly amend any agreement.

Apart from Ireland, Austria, Switzerland and Norway are also said to be sceptical of the proposed deal, which was agreed by US president George W Bush and Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh in 2005.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Government is "actively involved" in ongoing discussions on the issue in the context of this week's meeting.

Alison Kelly, head of the disarmament section at the Department of Foreign Affairs, is representing Ireland in Vienna.

"Consistently over the past three years since the Indo-US deal was first mooted, Ireland has been to the fore in raising questions and expressing serious concerns, particularly about its effects on the international non-proliferation regime," the spokeswoman said.

Opponents of the proposed deal argue it will significantly weaken efforts to control the spread of nuclear materials and weapons.

The Bush administration and supporters of the deal say it will help to persuade India to sign up to the NPT. They also argue that the deal could assist in the battle against global warming by encouraging the use of nuclear energy to fuel India's burgeoning economy.

The spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Government was aware of the importance attached to the deal by the US and India, noting also the "considerable support" for the plan, including on climate change grounds.

The spokeswoman added that the Government has carefully examined the text of the US proposal for India's exemption and would be proposing amendments aimed at improving it.