NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The members of the Missile Technology Control Regime, an international anti-proliferation grouping, have agreed to admit India, diplomats said, in a win for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he met President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday.
Diplomats with direct knowledge of the matter said a deadline for members of the 34-nation group to object to India’s admission had expired on Monday without any members raising objections.
Under this ‘silent procedure,’ India’s admission follows automatically, diplomats from four MTCR member nations told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
A senior official of the U.S. State Department told Reuters this step would allow India to become a formal member of the missile regime “in the near future.”
Admission to the MTCR would open the way for India to buy high-end missile technology, making more realistic its aspiration to buy surveillance drones such as the U.S. Predator, made by privately held General Atomics.
India also makes a supersonic cruise missile, the Brahmos, in a joint venture with Russia, that both countries hope to sell to third countries, a development that would make India a significant arms exporter for the first time.
Membership of the MTCR would require India to comply with rules such as a maximum missile range of 300 km (186 miles) that seek to prevent arms races from developing.
Italy had objected to admitting India, but after an unrelated bilateral dispute was resolved, did not object this time within a 10-day deadline after the group’s chair, the Netherlands, wrote to members suggesting India be welcomed.
An Italian marine, held for four years at the country’s embassy in New Delhi over the killing of two Indian fishermen in an anti-piracy operation in 2012, was recently allowed to return home.
PATH TO NSG MORE DIFFICULT
The MTCR is one of four international non-proliferation regimes that India, which in recent decades has gone from being a non-aligned outsider to a rising nuclear-weapons power, has been excluded from.
No formal meeting is required for India to complete its entry into the group, set up in 1987 to limit the spread of unmanned systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction.
New Delhi has also applied to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a 48-nation club that governs trade in commercial nuclear technology and was originally set up in response to India’s first atomic weapons test in 1974.
Joining the NSG will be much more difficult because China is a member and has backed the membership aspirations of Pakistan, its ally and India’s arch-rival.
The senior State Department official said Washington backed India’s NSG membership, which would be discussed at a meeting in Vienna on Thursday and at a NSG plenary in Seoul two weeks later.
“It would be a good thing for the NSG to act positively on India’s application,” he said, but added: “I don’t know exactly what will come out.”
The official said the United States has just received the Pakistani application and was “prepared to look at it according to the same criteria that we looked at in the case of India.
“There is no good reason for the two applications to be linked,” he added.
The breakthrough on the MTCR will be welcomed in the U.S. Congress, which Modi will address on Wednesday. Congress ratified a civilian nuclear agreement with India in 2008 that seeks to build commercial ties, while at the same time binding New Delhi into the global security order.
On Tuesday, Obama and Modi welcomed the start of preparatory work that could lead to the building of six Westinghouse nuclear reactors in India. The deal would be the first stemming from a U.S.-India civil nuclear accord struck over a decade ago.
Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Leslie Adler
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