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India, U.S. chip away opposition to nuclear deal

VIENNA (Reuters) - Resistance to lifting a global ban on nuclear trade with India diminished at a 45-nation meeting on Friday but it was unclear if a revised U.S. proposal would convince the last doubters.

U.S. President George W. Bush (R) meets with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the G8 Summit in Toyako, July 9, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Jim Young/Files

At stake is the survival of a controversial 2005 U.S.-India nuclear cooperation deal, a major initiative of President George W. Bush’s administration which risks an uncertain fate if left to his successor, who will take office in January.

To launch the deal, Washington and New Delhi need a one-off waiver of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) rules against exports to India, an atomic weapons state outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which tested bombs in 1974 and 1998.

Many NSG members welcomed an Indian pledge rejecting any nuclear arms race and reaffirming a voluntary moratorium on tests. But some felt the commitment was not sufficiently binding on New Delhi.

John Rood, acting U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said India’s gesture had added “positive momentum” to efforts to agree an NSG waiver.

Six NSG holdouts had been demanding a clause stipulating an automatic cessation of the waiver if India tested another weapon. Diplomats said that later shrank to four after Norway and Netherlands accepted less precise language.

Only Ireland, Austria, New Zealand and Switzerland were sticking to the “automaticity” position on testing, they said.

The NSG meeting dragged into Friday evening as delegations awaited presentation of an amended U.S. waiver draft meant to clinch a consensus on the emotionally charged testing issue.

After clearing new language with Washington and New Delhi, U.S. diplomats presented it to holdout countries for perusal, sources familiar with proceedings said. The draft was also shown to Japan and China.

It was unclear if, once the new text was circulated to all delegations for approval, a final decision could be taken then or whether another meeting might need to be held later.

Decisions by the nuclear export cartel must be unanimous.

If Washington cannot secure an NSG exemption within days, the U.S. Congress may run out of time to ratify the deal before it adjourns at the end of September for elections, relegating the matter to an uncertain fate under a new president.

Washington says the nuclear cooperation deal with New Delhi would forge a strategic partnership with the world’s largest democracy, help India meet exploding energy demand in an environmentally friendly way and open a nuclear market worth billions of dollars for Western firms.

NSG critics fear India could use access to nuclear material markets indirectly to boost its bomb programme and drive nuclear rival and fellow NPT outsider Pakistan into another arms race.

Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington