Germany has grudgingly accepted a landmark civilian nuclear trade deal with India which gives the Asian giant the green light to buy nuclear fuel and technology on the global market.
Some say the deal with India is a setback for nuclear non-proliferation efforts
German Foreign Ministry spokesman Jens Ploetner said this week Germany -- as chair of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which controls the export and sale of nuclear technology -- had tried to balance conflicting interests during tense negotiations that led to the landmark agreement.
"There were several countries that put critical questions to India, but also the United States, about how this arrangement is compatible with the common goal of nuclear non-proliferation," Ploetner told a news conference on Monday, Sept 8.
"It is not an ideal solution. The negotiations were very difficult and we cannot say that we could not have imagined something better."
The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is a group of 45 states that control the international sale of nuclear technology. The deal with India is a key step in sealing the India-US atomic technology accord signed by US President George W. Bush and Indian Premier Manmohan Singh in 2005.
The US-India Business Council, one of the champions of the pact between New Delhi and Washington, said the NSG's decision could unlock nuclear energy investment in India worth more than $100 billion (70 billion euros).
The controversial agreement, signed on Saturday, Sept. 6, means Germany and other states can start jostling for a strong position in the race to sell nuclear know-how and technology to India.
A controversial decision
The US had been hoping for a quick decision on the embargo, so that the current US Congress could ratify the accord before elections in November. US lawmakers are pushing for a vote by the end of September.
The decision to lift the embargo was controversial, in part because India -- which was embargoed in the first place after it developed and tested nuclear weapons test in 1974 -- has so far refused to sign the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Bush and Singh signed a nukes deal in 2005
The US exerted the most pressure on the NSG to lift the embargo. It argues that cooperation in the civilian nuclear sector could bring India closer to signing on to the international nuclear non proliferation treaty, and that an increase in atomic energy sources will help in the fight against global warming.
But critics -- such as Austria, Ireland and New Zealand, supported by China -- warned that India is being rewarded for its long-time insistence on a right to nuclear technology; they fear India could use atomic technology for military ends. Moreover, the NSG stance undermines its negotiating power when it comes to dealing with states such as Iran and Pakistan, opponents argue.
Germany shows grudging acceptance
The last NSG member state to finally agree to lift the India embargo was Austria. It signed only after India formally decreed it would adhere to a moratorium on further atomic-bomb tests.
Germany, which currently chairs the NSG, expressed grudging acceptance of the landmark atomic energy deal. It, too, denied the accord undermines the West's efforts to convince Iran to stop sensitive nuclear work.
Iran'S Ahmadinejad wants to expand his program
Asked whether the pact contradicted the West's united opposition to Iran's controversial nuclear program, Ploetner told AFP news service that the Nuclear Suppliers Group had underscored the goal of non-proliferation with the agreement.
Germany: IAEA approval was key
"Does this agreement send an approving message to Iran? No, it absolutely does not," Ploetner said, calling India a "special case."
Ploetner added that the approval of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, had been decisive in winning approval.
Getting the IAEA to sign on was a key part of the deal
Germany is among six countries working to convince Tehran to abandon uranium enrichment, which the West fears is a pretense for building an Iranian nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only.
Jostling for contracts has begun
Meanwhile, the US forecasts that India's growing energy needs mean it will have to build at least eight new atomic energy plants by 2012. Britain, France and Russia have already joined the US in jostling for lucrative contracts.
And during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of a German-supported technical university earlier this week in Chennai, India, German Technology Minister Annette Schavan was warmly greeted by her Indian counterpart Kipal Sibal.
"We have to see the next 50 years of cooperation in the light of the events of this past weekend," Sibal said at the celebration. In cooperation with Germany, India could find out "which components and what know-how is important for us," he added
While the NSG decision means India is now technically free to trade on the world market, Indian leaders said late Monday, Sept. 8, they would seek to clinch international nuclear deals only after the India-US atomic agreement is cleared by the US Congress.
On Tuesday, Sept. 9, the White House said it was "hopeful" Congress would pass the landmark cooperation deal before President Bush's term ends in January.