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New Zealand has doubts on India nuclear deal-report

NEW DELHI, Aug 20 (Reuters) - New Zealand has doubts about a plan being discussed by the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to give a green light to India’s civilian nuclear deal with the United States, a minister was quoted on Wednesday as saying.

The United States has proposed to waive a ban on nuclear trade with India without conditions, like a compliance with a nuclear test ban or sanctions if India tested a nuclear device.

The plan is being discussed with the NSG this week in Vienna. Critics say that the NSG needs to have tighter controls over India, such as with nuclear tests.

“New Zealand has not arrived at a final position on this,” New Zealand’s Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control Phil Goff was quoted as telling the Times of India.

“But like a number of countries we do have reservations about aspects of the content of the draft exemption recently circulated to the NSG.”

Diplomats see New Zealand being one of the most critical countries of the deal, along with Austria, Switzerland, Ireland and Norway.

Public declarations from officials involved in the NSG are rare and the statement from Goff signals that India and the United States may have a tough time in Vienna persuading the NSG, which arrives at decisions by consensus.

Approval by the NSG is necessary for the 2005 U.S.-India deal on nuclear trade to proceed to U.S. Congress for final ratification.

It would lift a 34-year embargo on nuclear trade for civilian purposes with the Asian atomic power, which has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty and has tested atomic bombs.

Diplomats have said that several NSG member states felt the draft fell behind earlier U.S. proposals, had unacceptable clauses and omissions, and went against existing U.S. laws on the deal.

If the waiver does not get NSG approval next week or at a second meeting likely early next month, it may not get ratified by the end of September, when U.S. Congress adjourns for November elections, and could face indefinite limbo.

Diplomats have said that several NSG nations are unlikely to approve an exemption unless it makes clear certain events -- such as India testing a nuclear bomb or not allowing inspections at its nuclear facilities -- would trigger a review.

“We don’t agree with either India’s testing of nuclear weapons or its continued possession of those weapons,” Goff said. (Reporting by Alistair Scrutton; Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Sanjeev Miglani)