April 12, 2010

India to set up global nuclear centre

By Raj Chengappa
Editor-in-Chief
http://www.tribuneindia.com/2010/20100413/main1.htm

IN WASHINGTON DC

It is billed as the single biggest gathering of world leaders in the US since War World II and the American capital has been converted into a veritable security fortress. As Presidents, Prime Ministers and Kings of 44 countries descend on DC to attend the Nuclear Security Summit, roads have been blocked off with concrete and metal barricades, police sirens wail continuously and traffic jams resembling Mumbai roads are the order of the day.

The key objective for this unprecedented gathering of world leadership convened by US President Barack Obama is to come out with an action plan to prevent terrorists from acquiring any weapons grade nuclear material and using it to threaten the world. At the White House yesterday, Obama termed nuclear terror as the “single biggest threat to security” confronting nations and pointed to the disastrous consequences if such a device was detonated in any city in the world. Obama warned that Al Qaeda was in the process of trying to secure a nuclear weapon.

Later today, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will attend the welcome ceremony hosted by Obama at the Washington Convention Centre in the heart of the city. It will be followed by a working dinner where Obama and other leaders will discuss the magnitude of the threat and the challenges it poses. The dinner is expected to set the tone for the intense discussions to follow on Tuesday ending in a joint communiqué detailing an action plan to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials across the world within four years.

Manmohan and the Indian delegation can enjoy the dinner in the knowledge that in the run up to the summit they have worked with the US and other major nations to ensure that the outcome will have all that India wanted while leaving out measures that could be potentially uncomfortable or embarrassing to it. When he speaks at the plenary session on Tuesday Manmohan will announce a major Indian initiative to fund and set up a Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership in the country. It will have various schools that would focus on nuclear security, advanced nuclear energy systems, application of radioisotopes for medicine and radiological studies. The Centre would offer formal training and education for all interested countries. India plans to project the Centre as a showcase of its “cradle to grave” nuclear expertise that it has built over six decades and also demonstrate the country’s commitment and expertise towards enhancing global nuclear safety, security and energy related issues.

The Indian Prime Minister could also look back in satisfaction at the positive one-on-one meeting he had with Obama yesterday at Blair House. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao described the bilateral interaction as “extremely positive and constructive.” In the almost hour long meeting with Obama, Manmohan raised India’s concerns about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Prime Minister got the US President to endorse India’s constructive role in Afghanistan. He told Obama that the lack of will on Pakistan’s part to bring the perpetrators of Mumbai to book made it difficult for India to work towards reducing tensions between the two countries. That seems to have had an impact with Obama mentioning this to Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani in their bilateral discussions. Manmohan was also able to get some assurances from Obama on the issue of interrogating David Headley by Indian justice officials. Obama told Manmohan that he was eagerly looking forward to his first visit to India as President later this year.

The upbeat meeting with Obama gave a further boost to India’s efforts to get the maximum out of the Nuclear Security Summit.

The summit itself is an endorsement of India’s persistent efforts in the past decade to bring the issue of nuclear terror to the forefront. “For years we were the lone voice in the wilderness and we are happy that our views are now being endorsed,” said a senior Indian official.

There are many unstated objectives of the summit that India and other major nations have worked quietly to achieve. Apart from turning the heat on Iran and North Korea the strategy is to focus on Pakistan which is increasingly viewed by major nations as being the prime intersection of nuclear weapons and terrorism. By getting nations to focus on national measures including regulatory mechanisms to secure their nuclear material, the summit will indirectly tighten the screws on Pakistan and Iran.

At the same time India was wary that the summit should not be turned into what an official called “a mini-NPT” that would bring in through the backdoor intrusive international verification measures. Nor was India keen that any new international agency or mechanism be set up to monitor progress and pushed for strengthening existing conventions, treaties and agencies to ensure compliance.

In the three rounds of negotiations by ‘sherpas’ or interlocutors of participating nations, India’s viewpoint of keeping the summit focused on issues of safety and physical security of nuclear materials rather than NPT related issues gained traction and was reportedly endorsed by the US. On the eve of the summit, India’s ‘sherpa’ Nirupama Rao told The Tribune: “We believe that the final outcome would address the purpose of the summit which is adopting doable measures both national and international to secure vulnerable nuclear material across the world within a given time frame. We have ensured that such measures would not dilute India’s stand on existing discriminatory non-proliferation regimes or initiatives.”

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