NSG: Swiss says a big Yes, but China wall ahead

New Delhi :Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi scored a diplomatic victory on Monday, by managing to win the crucial support of Switzerland for India’s entry into the elite 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Chinese wall still stands in India’s way in clinching NSG membership.

Modi, who held bilateral talks with Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann ahead of his crucial Washington visit, also got a commitment on black money stashed in Swiss banks. The PM said that both countries will start early talks on the Agreement on Automatic Exchange of Information to combat the menace of black money.

The Swiss support is significant, considering that it – along with other North European countries – has been fiercely opposing entry of those countries which have not signed the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) into the nuclear trading club. The tiny country in the middle of Europe is part of 12 nuclear and disarmament related clubs, which include the UN Disarmament Commission and NPT.

The nuclear club countries are meeting on June 9 in Vienna and June 23 in Seoul to discuss India’s membership. Experts here believe that India’s diplomatic efforts may convince several NSG members like Switzerland to back its membership, but China is equally determined to put roadblocks, unless Pakistan is also given entry into the grouping, despite its poor proliferation record.

Chinese opposition will come up at discussions between Modi and President Barack Obama on Tuesday, when they will discuss India’s route to the NSG. Modi, who is visiting a series of countries currently, added Mexico and Switzerland to his itinerary because both had expressed reservations about India being included in the NSG. Modi also expressed India’s readiness to resume free trade agreement (FTA) talks with EFTA – the grouping of Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. The talks stand stalled on a host of issues like Intellectual Property Rights and data safety. The negotiations for the Free Trade Association were launched in 2008.

In Washington, President Obama – whom Modi is meeting for the seventh time since he assumed office on Tuesday – will have his work cut out. He needs to find a way out to neutralise Chinese opposition to India’s entry into the NSG. He will also have to make up his mind for formal signing of the key logistics agreement that would enable the US to refuel and repair vehicles at Indian ports and bases. The two countries have now agreed “in principle” to the deal, but the final draft has not been signed. Two other agreements – one that would provide access for India to US’ advanced radio and satellite communications systems, and the second that would provide exchange of geospatial data for military and civilian use – are also pending. India had long been reluctant to sign the logistics agreement because of fears it would obligate India to support a US role in future military conflicts.

“There are certain apprehensions in our minds because of past experience,” said Alok Bansal, director of the Center for Security and Strategy at the India Foundation in Delhi. On Wednesday, Modi would address a joint meeting of the US Congress, the first foreign leader to do so this year.