Nuclear export group divided over ties with India: diplomats

VIENNA (REUTERS) - An influential global body that controls atomic exports is divided over establishing closer ties with India, meaning the nuclear-armed Asian power may have to wait a while longer before joining.

Diplomatic sources said different opinions were voiced in a debate on relations with India - a non-signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) - at an annual meeting of the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) last week in Buenos Aires.

The United States, Britain and other members have argued in favour of India joining the trade body, established in 1975 to ensure that civilian nuclear trade is not diverted for military aims.

NSG membership could boost India's international standing as a responsible atomic power and also give it greater influence on issues related to global nuclear trade.

But the country would be the only member of the suppliers'group that has not signed up to the NPT, a 189-nation treaty set up four decades ago to prevent states from acquiring nuclear weapons.

This has caused some NSG states to raise doubts about India joining their club, which plays a pivotal role in countering nuclear threats and proliferation. Some also argue that it could erode the credibility of the NPT, a cornerstone of global nuclear disarmament efforts.

But supporters say it is better if India is in, rather than out, of the NSG as it is already an advanced nuclear energy power and will in future become a significant exporter as well. "There will be further debate on this issue," one source said. Another source said it remained uncertain what the potential benefits and risks were of India joining. Earlier NSG debates on the issue have also highlighted the differing views among the members.

India - Asia's third-largest economy - has yet to formally apply to join the NSG and would need the support of all member states in order to be successful. Diplomats say it may want to be sure of unanimous NSG backing before taking that step.

Days before the meeting in Argentina, India said it was ratifying a so-called Additional Protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to expand oversight over its civilian nuclear programme.

The United States said this marked another "important step in bringing India into the international non-proliferation mainstream". But some experts questioned the move's significance, as it would not affect India's nuclear weapons programme and sensitive atomic fuel activities.

The agenda for the June 26-27 meeting in Buenos Aires said members would be "invited to a general discussion on the NSG's relationship with India", without giving details.

Diplomats have said that China was among those countries to have been doubtful. Beijing's reservations may be influenced by its ties to its ally Pakistan, India's rival, which has also tested atomic bombs and is also outside the NPT, analysts say.

To receive civilian nuclear exports, nations that are not one of the five officially recognised nuclear arms states - those that had known arsenals before the NPT was drafted - must usually place their nuclear activities under IAEA safeguards.

When the United States sealed a nuclear supply deal with India in 2008 that China and others found questionable because Delhi is outside the NPT, Washington won an NSG waiver from that rule after long and contentious negotiations.

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