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Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
NSG Still Mulling Indian Membership
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Daniel Horner

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) continued discussions on admitting India to the group, but apparently remained divided on the issue during its annual plenary meeting last month in Seattle.

In a statement released June 22, the last day of the meeting, the 46-member group said only that it “continued to consider all aspects of the implementation of the 2008 Statement on Civil Nuclear Cooperation with India and discussed the NSG relationship with India.” That wording was identical to what the group said on the subject in last year’s statement.

The NSG is not a formal organization, and its guidelines are not binding.

In September 2008, the group eased long-standing restrictions on nuclear trade with India by its members. NSG rules generally forbid the sale of nuclear goods such as reactors and fuel to countries that, like India, are not parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

In November 2010, during a visit to India, President Barack Obama announced his support for Indian entry into the NSG and three other multilateral export control groups. At the NSG’s 2011 plenary meeting, the United States submitted a “Food for Thought” paper on options for bringing India into the group.

A key criterion for NSG membership is that a country is a party to and complying with the NPT or a nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaty. India would be the first country that did not meet that criterion.

In a June 27 interview, U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman, the new NSG chairman, said members had expressed “a variety of the views” on the issue of Indian membership. As Poneman noted, the NSG makes decisions by consensus. He characterized the discussion as one of “food-for-thought ideas.”

Asked about India’s lack of NPT membership, which some countries have indicated would be a stumbling block, Poneman said that there are “numerous ways [the Indians] can attest their commitment to nonproliferation norms” and that “the full panoply of [Indian] commitments is being looked at.” Among India’s commitments is its declaration that it is adhering to the NSG export guidelines.

Pressing China on Reactor Deal

On another ongoing issue for the NSG, Poneman said the United States and other countries were continuing to seek information from China about its plans to sell two reactors to Pakistan, which is not an NPT party.

When China joined the NSG in 2004, it had already built a power reactor at Pakistan’s Chashma site. It claimed at the time that, under the NSG’s “grandfather” provisions, it was entitled to build a second one, on the grounds that the second project was covered in its existing agreement with Pakistan. By most accounts, China told the NSG members that its agreement with Pakistan covered those two units but that it would not supply Pakistan with any reactors beyond those. China reportedly now is arguing that the proposed additional reactors also are grandfathered.

When word of the planned sale of the so-called Chashma-3 and -4 reactors emerged two years ago, a U.S. official said, “Without an exception granted by the NSG by consensus, Chinese construction of additional nuclear power plants in Pakistan beyond what was grandfathered in 2004 would be inconsistent with NSG guidelines and China’s commitments to the NSG.” (See ACT, June 2010.)

In the interview, Poneman said the United States is “not the only government that has this set of concerns.” The U.S. government “has been very clear” about its concerns and has “repeatedly asked” China for more details, he said. The Chinese have replied, but the United States would like more detail, he said. “We’ve been pressing for answers, and we’re still pressing,” Poneman said.

Lists Being Updated

In its statement at the Seattle meeting, the NSG “emphasized the importance of keeping its lists up to date with technological developments and took stock of the ongoing fundamental review process” through which it keeps its export control lists current. Poneman said the highest U.S. priority for the upcoming year was to complete the review. Some changes to the list were approved at the meeting, and more are coming, he said.

According to the statement, NSG members also “discussed brokering and transit and agreed to consider these matters further.” In the case of some exports, the main proliferation concern may come not from the supplier or the ultimate recipient but from an intermediary, Poneman said. The group wants to be sure “not to turn a blind eye if that’s a vulnerability” and will take up that issue “in a way not done until now,” he said.

In an interview last September, Poneman’s predecessor, Piet de Klerk of the Netherlands, discussed the possibility of creating “stronger relationships with different [NSG] stakeholders, be it media, be it civil society.” Poneman said that, at the Seattle meeting, de Klerk provided a briefing on those ideas, which got an “overall positive response.” The group will “continue consultations” on transparency issues, he said. It makes sense “to open the aperture,” and the group will look for opportunities to do that, he said.

The NSG chairmanship rotates annually among the member countries. A country kicks off its chairmanship year by hosting the plenary meeting.