Quest for Balance
Vienna came into my life like many other capitals in which I served, without warning. Buenos Aires was suggested for me first, but it made little sense. I knew no Spanish and had no experience of Latin America. Moreover, I was keen on a multilateral post. Neither New York nor Geneva was immediately available and, therefore, I asked for Vienna. The combination of bilateral and multilateral work that Vienna offered was attractive, and I was particularly fascinated by the idea of being the governor for India on the Board of the IAEA.
The usual hiccups of a chain of postings followed. Yogesh Tiwari, whom I was to replace in Vienna, was not keen to go to Cairo, where he was posted, and he told me quite categorically that he had no plans to leave Vienna unless he was posted either to Delhi or to a more weighty station. But unknown to him, there were forces at work in his own mission to undermine him and he was suddenly recalled to Delhi. Out of the blue, Vienna became vacant and pressure started to mount on me to reach Vienna without delay. I was ready to leave after the prime minister’s visit to Washington and it suited me to rush matters a bit to reach Vienna in the middle of December 2000. President Thomas Klestil received me for my presentation of credentials within a couple of days of my arrival. Though the credentials ceremony itself was not very ostentatious, as I walked past an Austrian guard of honour with a slight shower of snow, the history of Europe and India’s role in it passed through my mind.
My only earlier visit to Vienna was in 1976 when we travelled from Moscow to Europe by train in the company of S. Shekhar, a delightful submariner, who was the assistant naval attaché in Moscow. He had gathered a couple of cousins, in addition to his wife and children, for the trip. Apart from being in a largish group and on a shoestring budget, we had spent only a day in Vienna and had hardly explored the attractions of Vienna. Schonbrunn Palace was the only Vienna landmark, which was etched in my memory. For the rest, it was just a recollection of a jumble of statues and museums spread over Prague, Rome and Vienna. Vienna was, therefore, a new city to explore and to understand.
For India, the focus in Vienna is on the IAEA. I had dealt with the IAEA as joint secretary (UN), but only peripherally because the nodal agency of the government for it was the Department of Atomic Energy under the prime minister. In fact, if the governor for India on the IAEA Board were not the ambassador in Vienna, the Ministry of External Affairs would not have been involved at all in the affairs of the IAEA. The substantive aspects are still with the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and the Ministry of External Affairs deals only with political issues. But like all international organisations, the substantive work in the IAEA is hostage to political issues. Considerable scientific work is done, but it is the political dimensions of the agency that agitate the members and necessitate the intervention of the board. It is when political issues come up that the IAEA receives attention around the globe.
The celebrated Indian nuclear scientist, Homi Bhabha, played a major role not only in shaping the IAEA at the time of its establishment, but also in having it situated in Vienna. New York and Geneva were the leading candidates for the venue, but Bhabha’s love for Western music clinched the issue in Austria’s favour. A bust of Homi Bhabha adorns the entrance to the IAEA Boardroom. Dr Chidambaram was instrumental in installing the bust of Bhabha at this important location. The boardroom also has two wooden panels fixed on the wall on two sides of the chair, portraying scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata, a gift given by Dr Homi Sethna. Both the panels portray war, but it is the conflict between the good and the evil and the good prevails in the end. India is a permanent member of the IAEA board in our capacity as one of the ten members ‘most advanced in the technology of atomic energy including the production of source materials’. India also permanently heads the regional group Middle East and South Asia (MESA) within the board.
Even with all this involvement, India is considered off the mainstream in the IAEA because of a quirk of circumstances. The IAEA was founded in October 1956 to ‘accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world’ and to ‘ensure, so far as it is able, that assistance provided by it or at its request or under its supervision or control is not used in such a way as to further any military purpose.’ India helped to shape these objectives and also participated in the negotiations on the NPT, with a view to eliminating nuclear weapons. But when the NPT turned out to be a discriminatory treaty, which divided the world into nuclear haves and have-nots with varied obligations and privileges, India had no choice but to keep out of it. It was logical for the IAEA to become the agency responsible for the NPT because of its mandate, but India never accepted that the IAEA would be primarily a watchdog for non-proliferation. The other developing nations and we give primacy to the promotional objectives of the IAEA, while the nuclear weapon states and other developed nations see it as a regulatory body. This divide is reflected in the term ‘balance’, a much interpreted, much maligned and much misunderstood term in the context of the IAEA. It has come to mean that the agency should give equal importance to the three pillars on which it is built, namely nuclear power, safety and non-proliferation. Treatises have been written as to how the balance should be maintained, but its ambiguity leads to an endless debate when budgets are discussed, programmes are prepared and the work of the agency is evaluated. It is the quest for balance that determines our policy towards the IAEA today.
My arrival in Vienna coincided with a change of guard at the helm of affairs in the Indian Atomic Energy Commission. Dr Chidambaram, who dominated the nuclear scene for many years, left his post as the chairman and Dr Anil Kakodkar, a veteran of both the nuclear tests of 1974 and 1998, took over. Chidambaram continued as a Homi Bhabha Fellow in the nuclear establishment and later became the principal scientific adviser to the prime minister. Kakodkar, an extremely talented and experienced scientist, who headed the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, turned out to be a skillful negotiator. Though less exuberant than Dr Chidambaram and more reticent, Kakodkar’s advice was always clear and perceptive. I had an excellent relationship with him throughout and our partnership was fruitful.
The chairman of the board of governors is elected from among the governors by rotation of the regional groups. The chairman plays an important role in coordinating and directing the work of the board and thus the agency itself. The secretariat, under the guidance of the director general, prepares the documents for every meeting and the governors bring in their national perspectives on them. Much of the debate is constructive, but sharp differences are frequent and the documents are revised to bring in the ideas on the basis of consensus. The chairman plays a role in shaping the consensus and in the process brings in his personal views and skills. India has been the chairman of the board twice, Ambassador Vishnu Trivedi first and later Dr Chidambaram.
The director general, elected every four years, is the head of the agency and, according to tradition in the agency, its moving spirit. Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, an Egyptian lawyer, professor and UN civil servant, had reached the last year of his first term when I arrived in Vienna. There was no candidate against him and his election for a second term was a foregone conclusion. This reflected his great popularity among the developed and developing countries. His commitment to non-proliferation as well as to the promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy gave him great credibility. His courage of conviction and righteousness enabled him to stand up to pressures from any quarters. Having served as the head of the legal department and of the external relations department in the agency, he had acquired considerable expertise that stood him in good stead as the director general. It was during the Iraq crisis that he proved his mettle beyond any doubt. He stuck to his position that he had no evidence yet of Iraq having reactivated its nuclear programme since the inspectors left in 1994 and that he needed time to come to a definite conclusion on the issue. He did not lend any credence to the evidence that Colin Powell gave to the Security Council about a deal with Niger or about import of steel tubes. His position was vindicated by the fact that the United States was not able to find a shred of evidence of nuclear weapons activity even after they occupied Iraq and searched the length and breadth of the country.
It was by accident that ElBaradei and I became members of the Susanbrunn Golf Club in the outskirts of Vienna at the same time. He was still a beginner, while I had played golf for a number of years. Once we began playing golf together every weekend, I came to know him well and we were able to exchange ideas on a range of issues in a relaxed and cordial atmosphere. I did not have to ask for meetings with him even on official matters as we could transact business on the golf course. The number of Indian professionals in the IAEA rose to unprecedented levels during my time because of his goodwill.
My first meeting with the director general for presentation of my credentials as the governor for India as well as the permanent representative of India to the IAEA revealed that it was not just the position of India as a non-signatory of the NPT that was causing concern, but our general aloofness from some of the mechanisms of the IAEA. In our minds, several activities of the IAEA militated against the total freedom we desired in pursuing our nuclear option. One decision we had taken in the late seventies was not to accept any assistance from the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation Fund (TCF). This appeared contradictory as we were the champions of the TCF right from the beginning and the TCF was the arm of the IAEA which promoted peaceful uses of atomic energy in developing countries. Right from the beginning, India’s standpoint was that as the TCF was so small, it should be used for less-developed countries. But since the fund is available for all developing countries without any other criteria, China and Pakistan use the TCF to their advantage. Perhaps, our decision was associated with our desire to be totally independent of external agencies in our nuclear development. The provision in the Statute of the IAEA that assistance provided by it should not be used for development of nuclear weapons could have been used by other countries to criticise India in 1974 and 1998 if India was a recipient of TCF. Yet another reason could be the apparent link between the TCF and the NPT. The contributions to the TCF are linked to the commitment of the non-nuclear weapon states to abjure nuclear weapons. India did not want to have anything to do with the funds provided as a price for giving up the nuclear option.
India had also not signed some of the other conventions that were considered important for the functioning of the IAEA. India did not sign the conventions like the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) because of the elements in it, which seemed to run contrary to the nuclear option. We signed the CPPNM during my days in Vienna, and I had the privilege to hand over the instrument of accession to the director general. This enabled us to participate officially in the meetings of the Conference of Parties to the convention, which met to amend the convention to make it stronger. The Conference of Parties, however, did not succeed in finalising the amendments to the convention. India had also not ratified the Nuclear Safety Convention, though we had signed it.
Another issue was that India was not accepting safety-related inspections of our nuclear facilities. The IAEA kept pressing us to accept its Operational Safety Review Teams, but we made no progress. I urged the government to re-examine, in the light of our having acquired nuclear weapons, whether we could take measures that would bring us closer to the mainstream. Since some of the nuclear weapon states themselves had signed the Additional Protocol to the NPT, we even considered whether we could sign a similar protocol. But the general policy was to go slow and not speed up matters that might bring us closer to the NPT regime. The allergy to the NPT is so acute in India that no government wishes to appear to accept it even indirectly. The rest of the world, however, considers the NPT central to the safety of the world and is willing to do anything that would strengthen the regime.
India has safeguards agreements with the IAEA to cover those facilities that have nuclear materials of foreign origin. The NPT member states are expected to have comprehensive safeguards agreement that will entitle the IAEA to inspect any facility. The United States insisted in 1980 that no further fuel would be supplied to Tarapore unless we signed the comprehensive safeguards agreement. India did not comply with the demand. But if India ever chooses to reprocess the spent fuel in Tarapore, the IAEA would be entitled to launch its inspection of the reprocessing.
I had expected that, given these special features of the Indian policy towards the IAEA, we would be constantly under pressure. I was relieved to find, however, that there was a certain understanding of our position over the years and that other members sought to accommodate our point of view rather than to embarrass us at every turn. The only other countries, which share our position, are Pakistan and Israel who have not signed the NPT. There are, of course, nuances in their positions that make them different at the same time. Pakistan, for example, maintains that it will sign the NPT and the CTBT as soon as India signs them and escapes direct pressure on itself. Israel does not sign the NPT not because it considers it discriminatory, but because it considers itself threatened by the massive conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction in its region. It has already signed the CTBT. But we necessarily had to join with Pakistan and Israel whenever issues relating to the NPT came to the fore. India took the lead and Pakistan and Israel followed suit whenever the position of the NPT countries had to be defended.
My first General Conference of the IAEA in September 2001 gave me a real taste of the fight we had to mount in order to ensure that no decision, prejudicial to our position, should be adopted. The meetings of the IAEA Board throughout the year had not thrown up any challenge of this nature. Our championship of nuclear power as the source of energy for the future was not shared by a number of countries, but none questioned the freedom of any country to develop its own strategy for development. The board was able to reach consensus on most of the issues and the only issue that went to the board unresolved was the choice of an external auditor, a post for which the United Kingdom and India were candidates. We maintained our candidature till the day of a possible vote, but withdrew on the basis of the assessment made by me that we would lose if there was a vote. We indicated that we were withdrawing for the sake of consensus, but we had calculated that our withdrawal from the IAEA would brighten our chances at the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), where also our comptroller and auditor general was a candidate. Although we had the endorsement of the G-77 as the only candidate from the group, it was clear that we were not likely to win. Among the arguments advanced at that time was that a non-signatory to the NPT should not be allowed to audit the accounts of the IAEA. The policy of the nuclear weapon states not to allow India any leadership role in the IAEA became evident at that time.
The issue that dominated my first General Conference was the danger from nuclear terrorism as the conference took place soon after the New York World Trade Centre bombing. In fact, we received news of the bombing when a board meeting was in progress on September 11. Some suggestion was made that the board should adjourn to follow developments, but the US delegate said that the board should continue its work as though the bombing had not taken place. But neither he nor the others realised at that time how profoundly the bombing was going to affect our lives. At the General Conference, virtually every speaker mentioned the New York bombing and its impact on the world. In the context of the agency, it was suggested by many that steps should be taken to prevent nuclear terrorism. New measures to ensure safety of nuclear material were suggested, and the General Conference authorised the director general to develop a programme for prevention of nuclear terrorism and to set up a fund for the purpose. There was universal support for the idea, but we voiced some concern that fears of nuclear terrorism should not be allowed to inhibit the development of peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Terrorism had become fashionable and every UN agency was keen to jump on to the bandwagon. The IAEA proceeded to set up a voluntary fund and found many contributors and readily began preventive measures. Security was sought to be a new pillar of the agency, but eventually it was made part of the safety division.
My work was cut out for me in the working group set up to consider the EU resolution on ‘Strengthening of Safeguards’, an annual ritual in which our non-NPT status gets highlighted. In 2000, an agreement had been reached between the NPT and the non-NPT countries that all exhortations regarding the application of comprehensive safeguards and the Additional Protocol would be consistent with the respective undertakings of the member states. This had enabled us, together with Pakistan and Israel, to join in the consensus on that resolution. In 2001, however, Egypt came up with a new formulation, which, though under the original chapeau, sought to urge all states, which had not yet done so, to bring comprehensive safeguards agreement into force. We could interpret this not to mean the non-NPT countries, but the same paragraph made a reference to the need for universalisation of the safeguards system of the agency, which seemed to contradict the chapeau. We spent several days trying to remove the ambiguity in the paragraph, but the Egyptian Ambassador Sehmi Shoukry, an intelligent but petulant diplomat, would not budge an inch. He kept arguing that the chapeau took care of our concern, but could not explain adequately why he needed the additional paragraph. He told me in private that his target was not India, but Israel. But as we were in the same category in Vienna, we could not urge Israel to do something that we ourselves were not prepared to do. Pakistan agreed and we decided to vote against the paragraph. One amusing incident made it clear that Pakistan was blindly following India at the time of the vote. The Pakistani Ambassador, Ali Sarwar Naqvi, who was fairly new, had understood that we were abstaining rather than voting against the paragraph. When the negative votes were invited, only India and Israel raised hands. Seeing the confusion, I interrupted the voting process by raising a point of order, suggesting that the president of the conference had not clearly indicated which vote was being taken. This gave sufficient time for a colleague of mine to dash to the Pakistani desk and convey our decision to vote against. An exasperated president, the Finnish ambassador, was heard whispering into the mike: ‘That is India letting Pakistan off the hook!’ We pretended not to hear it.
Another battle we had to pre-empt was the effort by a group of countries, which had adopted guidelines for holding of Plutonium, to get the General Conference to call upon other states to do likewise. By definition, India was the only concerned state that was targeted and we decided to nip the move in the bud. This we managed to do by a variety of methods and the issue was postponed. The authors recognised that forcing the issue was counterproductive. It came up again in 2002, but in a less virulent form and it did not see the light of day.
An annual drill at the IAEA is the endless debate that takes place as to how the decisions of the General Conference should be transmitted to the General Assembly. Over the years, a pattern had developed by which the board spent time picking and choosing the important elements of the resolutions and decisions adopted just a week earlier. In some cases, the board spent more time than the General Conference to do the picking and choosing. The common-sense approach of just forwarding the whole lot of decisions to the General Assembly did not appeal to some countries. As a result, the board spent a long time preparing a resolution on which we had to repeat our votes in the General Assembly.
The belief that there was an understanding in the US administration about India’s acquisition of nuclear weapons technology proved false in Vienna in 2002. The United States made it clear that ‘1998 was neither forgotten nor forgiven’ when it was India’s turn to provide a chairman for the IAEA Board. Our own internal dynamics were also partly responsible for the denial of the chairmanship to us. Eight years ago, when it was the turn of the MESA group to provide the chairman, the then Ambassador Kamal Bakshi had secured the position for himself, but the government decided in favour of Dr Chidambaram at the last minute. It was not logical to do that as the ambassador was the governor and the chairmanship of the board was essentially a political position, but it was meant to be an honour for one of our legendary scientists. In 2002, even before the government made a decision, interested parties spread news in Vienna that Dr Kakodkar, rather than the ambassador, would be the Indian candidate. Dr Kakodkar took the line that as on the last occasion it was the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, who became the chairman, he was quite prepared to take up the position again. This meant that I had to take up the case with the government to see how the matter could be resolved.
In the meantime, I heard that the US ambassador had said that the United States would not accept a nuclear scientist from India as the chairman, and since they were not sure that I would get it, they would rather block India. I decided to get the right version from Ken Brill, the Ambassador, whom I had known for some time. He was quite forthright in saying that it was the considered decision of his government that, while they had nothing against me, they would not like India to have any leadership role in the IAEA because of 1998. I expressed surprise that even after the long talks India and the United States had about the rationale of Indian nuclear policy, the United States was not willing to accept India in a responsible position in the IAEA. Brill said that nothing had changed as far as their position on the tests was concerned. India should not have done it and it was the US view that India’s new status would not be recognised. With the additional complication about the Indian nominee for the post, I decided to drop the whole proposal. Iran had also aspired to the post, but that was a non-starter from the beginning.
As the only countries that qualified for the post of chairman were India, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, Ambassador Nabila Almullah of Kuwait became the natural choice and we backed her together with the rest of the MESA group. Among those who were overjoyed by the choice was Pakistan, which could not have even aspired to the post as it was out of the board in 2003. Almullah had a long experience of the United Nations and she turned out to be very convenient for the Americans when issues such as Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Iran came up in the board.
Almullah, as the chairman of the board, was not particularly helpful to India. She tried to shield Pakistan in the context of its nuclear cooperation with DPRK and I had to take exception to her attitude. On one occasion, I had negotiated with her a text on the sources of supply to DPRK, an indirect reference to Pakistan, but she departed from the text she had faxed to me earlier, without consulting me. I spoke out in protest, but as she knew that she was patently wrong, she did not challenge me. I had known her from our days in New York together and we had a good personal equation, but as a chairman, she favoured Pakistan whenever we had our differences.
The annual budget discussions were fairly smooth for several years as there was an understanding that there would be no increase in the budget, except for adjustment for inflation, what is known as the zero real growth (ZRG). This was a discipline imposed on the whole UN system essentially by the United States. From year to year, the IAEA prepared the budget on this basis and only minor adjustments were possible in allocations. But this did not mean that there was no increase in the expenditure incurred by the IAEA. Sufficient funds were placed at the disposal of the IAEA from time to time for safeguards by the donors as they considered it vital and felt that there should be no slackness in safeguards operations Just before the 2004–05 budget outline came out towards the end of 2002, Richard Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State, wrote a letter to some of the developed countries, suggesting that there should be a substantial increase in the allocation for safeguards in the 2004–05 budgets. The United States was ready to depart from ZRG for the purpose and it urged the others to do the same. In effect, the US proposal was to merge the extra budgetary resources for safeguards with the regular budget so that all countries shared the burden. This was attractive to most Western countries, but Japan and Germany were not inclined to take over additional burdens. We took the position that it was reasonable to strengthen safeguards, but it should be accompanied by a proportionate increase in the TCF and the programmes relating to nuclear power, technology, and so on. We argued that when the targets for the TCF were negotiated, it was not known that there would be an actual increase in the regular budget and, therefore, it would be reasonable to increase the TCF also. The budget proposals took this view into account and, in our first reaction, we urged that the move away from ZRG after 15 years should be seen as an opportunity to remove some of the cobwebs of the past and to modernise the entire budget system. We were able to accomplish this to a great extent in the year-long negotiations. While the budget for safeguards was increased, we secured increases for the other programmes and also extracted a promise that there would be a linkage between increases in the regular budget and the TCF. Japan and Germany held back the agreement for a long time, but reluctantly joined the consensus. A number of other concepts and practices were opened up for examination, even though no agreement could be reached on them immediately.
The September 2003 meeting of the board was historical in several respects. The suspected clandestine nuclear activities of Iran had come to the notice of the world through an Iranian dissident organisation active in the United States. The alarm raised in the United States prompted Iran to volunteer some information to the IAEA and invite the director general to visit Iran for an exchange of views. After one or two postponements from the Iranian side, the visit of the director general took place and his report to the June 2003 board meeting was a mixed bag. He raised many unanswered questions about Iran’s nuclear programme, pointed out ‘failures’ on the part of Iran to fulfil its obligations, and sought further cooperation from Iran to enable him to clarify the unanswered questions. The board, at the insistence of the United States, issued a presidential statement, urging further cooperation and seeking a further report from the director general by September. The September report turned out to be damaging to Iran as it clearly showed that ‘something was rotten in the state of Denmark’. The programme was large, much beyond the requirements of energy generation, the genesis and the current sate of research shrouded in mystery and, most damaging of all, there was evidence of contamination, causing suspicion that Iran had already enriched uranium. If it had not, then Iran had imported contaminated equipment from abroad and it was obliged to reveal the source of such equipment.
Although ElBaradei was clinically correct in his reporting, the United States characterised the report as hazy and complex, which was seen as a mild criticism of the director general. The United States lost no time in concluding that Iran had not complied with its treaty obligations and in demanding that the matter should be referred to the Security Council immediately. The United States, however, relented, not in the least, because the director general’s report did not warrant such an action at that stage. But it remained stuck in the position that the board should list out all the negative features in the report, set 31 October 2003 as the deadline for Iran and IAEA to complete the verification process, and the November board should reach definite conclusions on further action. Many efforts were made to dilute the harshness of the draft resolution presented by France and the United Kingdom at the behest of the United States, notably by the newly formed Vienna chapter of the non-aligned movement, but the end result was not substantially different from the original draft.
Iran tried all arrows in its diplomatic quiver. It negotiated with the sponsors of the draft, urged the non-aligned chapter to rise up in defence of a fellow member, who was being targeted by the United States, and worked with Abdul Minty of South Africa who made his own efforts to moderate the text. It made several promises about future good behaviour, indicated interest in signing the Additional Protocol as demanded by the United States and lobbied hard against a resolution and a deadline. I operated within the NAM and agreed to authorise its chairman, Malaysia, to promote amendments, which were acceptable to Iran. But when Iran suggested that the NAM should table the amendments formally, I took the position that we could not table amendments to the NPT-related issues and that the amendments could be tabled only by the NPT member states. Our position was well understood by Iran, but it was irritated by this and made moves in Delhi to get us to join in tabling the amendments. Pressure mounted on the government to make some pro-Iranian moves, but after some initial confusion, the government backed my position. The United States was glad that we did not table the NAM amendments, even though our position was based on our own principled position. Abdul Minty was under pressure to abandon his efforts and he withdrew his own draft on the basis of a face-saving formula that the United Kingdom and France would withdraw their own resolution. Canada, Australia and Japan tabled a new resolution, which was not different from the UK-France draft as part of a meaningless deal between South Africa and the United States. When the sponsors declined to accept the NAM amendments, Iran threatened to move amendments, but realised that there would be no negative votes on the draft. Not even Malaysia and Cuba were willing to vote against the draft. Iran then took the prudent line that it would allow the draft to be adopted without an amendment, but it would reject and walk out of the board meeting. Ambassador Ali Salehi, Iran’s permanent representative to the IAEA and its governor, a US-educated scientist, blew hot and cold, at times rejecting the demand and at times promising to comply and walked out without his characteristic smile disappearing altogether! Salehi was under pressure from the fanatics and the liberals throughout the exercise. He told me once that the Americans considered him a mullah and the mullahs considered him a CIA agent.
It was clear in September that Iran had adopted a policy of ambivalence in its nuclear policy. It had learnt a lesson from the experience of Iraq and DPRK, and perhaps of India and Pakistan that the Americans would be deterred from aggression only if it possessed at least a dubious nuclear weapons status. The United States went into Iraq only after making sure that they had nothing to inflict damage on the United States. In the case of others, the United States had learnt to live with the reality. Iranian flirtation with nuclear weapons capability was a reality for the world to live with.
My last General Conference as a governor of the IAEA in 2003 was largely uneventful as there were no new issues to resolve. The lengthy discussions on the budget for 2004 and 2005 had dealt with a number of issues, particularly the perennial debate about balance. The General Conference merely rubber stamped the decisions of the board. Apart from the work of my own delegation, I had to chair the most contentious working group on transport safety. As India is neither a ‘shipping state’ of nuclear material nor a ‘coastal state’, which is concerned about passage of nuclear material near its shores, I had taken no interest in this working group. I had heard horror stories of night meetings and exchange of angry words in this working group during the previous General Conferences. Ambassador Max Hughes of Australia chaired the group as long as he was in Vienna and he had even returned to chair a special conference on the question of safety of transport of nuclear materials. The search of the shipping states and coastal states for an impartial and efficient chairman led them to me and I accepted the post even though I knew very little of the issues involved. I discovered soon enough after the briefing and one session of the group that what mattered was not the issue at hand, but experience of drafting the UN documents. Once I identified the differing perceptions of two distinct groups of countries, it was a matter of finding the right words for a balanced resolution. As I enjoyed the confidence of both the groups, I was able to make suggestions that found ready acceptance in both the groups. Problems arose as the conclusions of the conference were vaguely worded in order to obtain consensus, and it presented a wide variety of formulations each side could choose to suit its point of view. Merging these formulations without contradictions in the final product was the challenge and once I accomplished it, applause came from both sides. I was relieved and later overjoyed when both the coastal states and the shipping states expressed satisfaction over the outcome I had helped to construct. The UK ambassador attributed the success of the working group to the chairman’s ‘verbal ingenuity, peerless humour and wisdom’.
Our annual preoccupation with the resolution on ‘strengthening of safeguards’ continued. The new Egyptian Ambassador Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, who was with me in New York in the early eighties, signaled to me early enough that he was not in favour of any changes in the text. He would prefer to get three negative votes rather than change the text for the sake of consensus, he said. This would have settled matters, but Israel, which had a hard line on this resolution in the previous years, wanted to signal its own flexibility to the EU and others. Perhaps, Israel wanted a unanimous resolution on safeguards because of its possible relevance to Iran. Moreover, it had sensed that the Arabs might stage an offensive against Israel in the General Conference on account of the disruption of the peace process. Israel needed the backing of the EU in that eventuality and, therefore, indicated that a minor, inconsequential change would get India, Pakistan and Israel on board. In the mistaken impression that Israel was speaking for the three non-NPT countries, the EU announced a cosmetic change. Ironically, those who supported the change (removal of ‘all’) explained that the change did not make any difference to the resolution either grammatically or politically. When the time came to reject the amendment as inconsequential, I said: ‘We had looked at the change positively as we felt that it changed the universality of the appeal to sign comprehensive safeguards. But the consensus in the group is clear that it makes no difference to the resolution. In other words, the paragraph is the same as last year. If it is last year’s text, you will get from India our last year’s vote.’ Then I proceeded to propose the minimum change necessary to make the resolution acceptable, knowing well that it will not be acceptable. The delegate of the Netherlands, the only one to respond, tried to pick holes in my argument by asking how the contradiction between the chapeau and the operative paragraph 3 could be resolved by making the request to the concerned states. There was appreciative laughter in the room when I said that two negatives made a positive to make the resolution acceptable to us!
The general acceptance of the fact that India, Pakistan and Israel have not signed the NPT and that they are not likely to sign it in the future, I have observed, is positive from our point of view. But some countries do not want the world community to be complacent about the situation. Nor does the secretary general of the United Nations wish to forget it. At the 2003 General Conference, the first salvo on this was fired by the secretary general of the United Nations through his message read out by the newly appointed under secretary general for Disarmament Affairs, Nobuyasu Abe. Abe was the Japanese PR in Vienna till 2001. The message expressed the hope that all countries, including those in the Middle East and South Asia, would accept full-scope safeguards. When I ran into Abe the same evening at a French reception, I said, after warmly congratulating him on his appointment, that I was about to take the floor to protest, but I refrained from doing so as the message was from the secretary general and that he, an old friend, was reading it. He got the message loud and clear, but tried to explain it away, as it was the message of the secretary general and that he was only responsible for the reading of it! He subsequently reported my conversation to the director general, and the director general told me that he had no hand in the drafting of it. He told me also that there was no point in flogging a dead horse. The whole world knew the reality of the situation, he said.
Ambassador Ingrid Hall of Canada went beyond the normal formulations on the need for universalisation of the NPT when she asserted that signing of the NPT was a prerequisite for full membership of the international community. Was she declaring India, Pakistan and Israel as pariah states? I asked her that question directly and made no secret of our indignation. She reacted coolly and said that she had expected my reaction and she stood by every word that she spoke. Ingrid Hall was the officer responsible for non-proliferation in the Canadian foreign office during our tests in 1998, and she had made some trips to India at that time to discuss the matter with Indian officials. She had told me that she was not received very well in India! Naturally, Canadian protestations cannot be taken seriously when there is no doubt that Canada is a surrogate nuclear weapons state, not only because it is under a US nuclear umbrella, but also that it has a certain scientific role in the development of nuclear technology in the United States.
Arabs cannot do without some drama, even if its outcome is predetermined to be a failure. The Arabs decided to make an effort to improve upon the deal, which was carefully crafted 13 years ago, by which an Arab resolution on a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East is adopted without a vote in exchange for the Arabs not pressing a resolution on Israeli nuclear threat. Israel and its supporters were equally determined not to allow any movement, not even an inch. The result was an extension of the conference by a few hours till the Arabs realised that they could not gain anything by the exercise. Israel was quite ready to deal with the votes on both the resolutions or even get a no-action motion adopted to quash the whole move. We had voted for the controversial resolution in 1991, but knew we could not repeat the performance in 2003 and that too just after the first visit to India by an Israeli prime minister. We were quite relieved that no vote became necessary.
Soon after the General Conference, the board met to elect its new chairman, Ambassador Antonio Nunez of Spain, a charming diplomat who had co-chaired the working group on the budget. Spain was slated to leave the board this year and the German ambassador was all set to become the chairman, but the changed alliance of the United States in Europe following the Iraq war ensured that Germany was sidelined and Spain was brought in with some effort. The personality of the Spanish ambassador being more acceptable than the German helped the process all around.
The new chairman of the board proved his mettle when he managed to pilot the annual General Assembly resolution without much ado. After consulting key countries, he submitted a draft that was generally acceptable except for a Western slant he introduced in a paragraph on the different activities of the IAEA. The draft referred to the IAEA’s role in development of nuclear power and technical cooperation first and then characterised its role in safety, verification and security as ‘indispensable’. But he readily agreed to my suggestion that the adjective should qualify all the activities and bring all of them on par as in the Statute of the IAEA. The change satisfied many, but the ambassador of the Republic of Korea, with his obsession with the ratification of the amendment to Article VI, tried to include a reference to the concerned decision of the General Conference in the resolution. A chorus of protests from others changed his mind for him, but he still sounded as though his delegation might try to reopen the issue in New York.
An amendment to Article VI, adopted by the General Conference in 1999, sought to expand the strength of the board from the present 35 to 43. The amendment can come into force only if 91 members of the IAEA ratify it. Moreover, the new members will have to be approved by 90 per cent of the members of the board and the General Conference. The ratification of the amendment has been politicised as the amendment would mean that Israel would also be entitled to join the board through the MESA group. Pakistan would get a permanent position on the board if the amendment were to come into force. The Republic of Korea (ROK) would also have a chance to be a designated member. But the other members, particularly the Arabs, do not share ROK’s enthusiasm. The ROK’s insistence on calling on countries to ratify the amendment, therefore, is seen as insensitiveness to Arab sentiments. We ourselves are not enthusiastic about the amendment for obvious reasons. On the whole, the ratification of the amendment to Article VI must await a change in international relations.
Iran loomed large in the board in November 2003, more than ever before. Armed with the September resolution of the board, the IAEA and several member states bombarded the Iranians with demands of all kinds arising out of this resolution. Iran appeared to be vacillating, but the clear impression was that, even though Tehran had rejected the board resolution, it was inclined to follow it in spirit. The IAEA began to sense a change in Iran’s responses, and a new openness and readiness to provide access came to light. The Europeans, particularly the United Kingdom, France and Germany, with the leverage they have with the Iranians began a dialogue with Iran, independent of the United States, but with their concurrence. The Europeans held the key to the resolution of the Iran issue as Iran was keen to have fuel and other supplies from Europe in order to maintain their nuclear programme. An agreement reached between Iran and the EU-3, as they came to be known, was based on the September resolution of the board. In return for the implementation of a resolution they had rejected, the Iranians secured an assurance from the EU-3 that they would prevent reporting of the Iranian failures to the Security Council by refraining from determining that Iran was in non-compliance of the safeguards agreement. When the report of the director general appeared, enumerating the many failures of Iran, including non-reporting of enrichment of uranium, separation of plutonium, and reprocessing of spent fuel, the US reaction was extremely strong. The United States was of the view that Iran was in noncompliance and that its past deeds should be reported to the Security Council at least for information. Even though the director general indicated that there was no evidence yet of a nuclear weapons programme in Iran, he said that he needed a robust inspection mechanism to be in place for some time before he could say that the Iranian programme was meant exclusively for peaceful purposes. The director general himself left the noncompliance option open by referring to Iran’s breach of obligations to comply with the provisions of the safeguards agreement. But he also stated that there was no evidence as yet that Iran had a weapons programme and that he would need time, the continued full cooperation of Iran and a robust inspection mechanism in place to determine finally that the programme was meant exclusively for peaceful purposes.
The board witnessed an unusual situation when the EU and the United States were in opposite camps on the resolution on Iran. The EU found common cause with the non-aligned chapter in Vienna, which traditionally took a pro-Iranian position. But even the NAM was surprised to see the first draft that the EU-3 circulated. It was bland, it was vague and it seemed to let Iran off the hook. But the NAM response was to dilute it further at the instance of Iran. I realised that this was a totally wasteful exercise as it was unrealistic to expect that the United States would sit idle when its position was so directly challenged. As it happened, President George W. Bush was on a visit to London and there was no question that the United Kingdom would move contrary to the US interests. Sure enough, the second draft that came from the P-3 was much stronger. It contained the conclusion that Iran had indeed breached its obligation to comply with the provisions of the safeguards agreement. It strongly deplored Iran’s failures and issued a strong warning that if further failures came to light, the matter would be dealt with in accordance with the Statute of the IAEA. I thought that these would be the basic elements necessary for the United States to join the consensus, but felt that Iran would push the NAM to amend the text. I got together with South Africa and Egypt to see whether we could work with Iran to retain the main elements of the new draft. We agreed to encourage Iran to accept some of the elements, but Iran surprised us by announcing that it had accepted the new text. Quite obviously, the negotiations in Brussels and Teheran had borne fruit. We knew that real action was not in Vienna.
The United States insisted on further changes, this time on ‘the trigger mechanism’, that is the requirements for the matter to be referred to the Security Council. The United States had repeatedly stated that it was not their intention to prompt the Security Council to take any action, but to keep it informed of the present situation. As long as the resolution contained a good ‘trigger mechanism’ for the future, the United States was willing to drop its insistence on referring the matter to the Security Council. The problem with the second draft was that it contained a statement that the matter would remain within the Security Council as long as Iran continued its cooperation. The magic was in dropping this and in adding that further revelations of failures, whether old or new, would trigger action. Once this change was made, it was easy sailing for the resolution and it was adopted without a vote.
Everyone claimed victory. The United States got the board to strongly deplore Iran’s failures and to serve notice that it would act in accordance with the statute if further failures came to light. The EU-3 kept the promise, in letter, if not in spirit, that they would refrain from establishing ‘noncompliance’ and referring the matter to the Security Council. The NAM was happy that the final resolution had the implicit acquiescence of Iran. Iran itself was pleased, but appeared peeved by the strong criticism by countries like Australia, Canada and Japan. We made the point that the resolution reflected our position that the IAEA and Iran should continue the good work till the matter was satisfactorily resolved. The director general was also pleased that the board took positive action on his report and set March as the deadline for a final report. He had felt that a weak resolution like the one in the first draft would not do justice to the agency or the NPT.
The board approved the signing by Iran of an Additional Protocol, as agreed. This was a mere formality, but it provided some drama because Iran asked for a postponement of the consideration of this item when it felt that EU-3 were under pressure from the United States to abandon their moderate position. This angered many, as there was really no connection between the resolution and Iran’s agreement to sign the Additional Protocol. After a day of suspense, Iran agreed not to insist on resolving the main issue before the board considered the Additional Protocol. Iran’s hint that it can also be difficult if the EU-3 broke their promise was not lost on the board. The stage was set for the last leg of the Iran saga in March 2004.
Then came the surprise announcement by the United States and the United Kingdom that Libya had agreed to destroy its nuclear capability after nine months of negotiations. Nobody was more surprised than the IAEA that Libya had been putting together designs, material and equipment for acquiring weapons capability. ElBaradei was all set to go to India for a visit, combined with a holiday in Kerala and Goa. I was to go with him on 20 December 2003 to Delhi, but the US and the British PRs broke the news about Libya to him on 19 December and informed him that a Libyan envoy would visit him the next day to brief him on the historic agreement. The director general told me that he would still go to India on 21 December and return in two days. I learnt when I reached Delhi that he had postponed the visit altogether. Instead, he went to Libya, where Gaddafi himself told him about his efforts over the years to acquire nuclear capability and his recent decision to dismantle it altogether in return for a good conduct certificate from the West. Having settled the Lockerbie case and the French case, Gaddafi had decided to get all sanctions against Libya removed and the nuclear issue stood in the way. The director general sent a team to examine the material and equipment and came to the conclusion that the Libyan programme was at a ‘nascent’ stage, but agreed to verify the removal or elimination of the material. The United States was not too pleased that he characterised the Libyan programme as not too significant. Ken Brill, the US PR, told me that the director general did not know enough to reach this conclusion.
The Libyan episode served to undermine the credibility of the NPT as well as the IAEA. A system of safeguards based on reporting of activities by member states by their own volition could not be relied upon. Libya had reported nothing and the IAEA, therefore, knew nothing. Many recalled that even in the case of Iran, it was some dissident Iranians who had discovered the massive programme that Iran had launched. The United States involved the IAEA in the Libyan episode for the sake of form, but wanted to keep the involvement to the minimum. The director general made no secret of his frustration and, as if to appease him, John Bolton, the US under secretary for disarmament, and his British counterpart made a brief visit to Vienna to reach an agreement that the United States would destroy or remove the Libyan material and that the IAEA would verify the action. Subsequently, when the White House announced the conclusion of the Libyan operation, the IAEA was not even mentioned. The IAEA issued its own report that the IAEA inspectors had sealed the equipment before the material was removed and that the IAEA would have access to it whenever necessary.
The old fears of the ‘Islamic Bomb’, with Pakistan at the centre of related research revived with the discovery of Pakistani hand in Iran and Libya. Pakistan moved from an outright denial to an acknowledgement that individual scientists might have parted with designs and technology for personal gains. A. Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistani bomb and a national hero for many years, was dismissed and kept under house arrest, as though an individual could pass on nuclear secrets to several countries without the knowledge of the military government. ElBaradei himself said in Davos in January 2004 that the ‘black market’ in nuclear design and technology had emerged as a new challenge, giving credibility to the theory that Pakistani government itself was not involved. He claimed that scientists from other countries, including Malaysia and Germany, might have been involved. The US alliance with Pakistan to fight terror was the only reason that the United States did not drag Pakistan on the floor of the IAEA Board as a criminal proliferator.
The A. Q. Khan story became curiouser when he made a public confession on Pakistan television that his personal greed was the reason for his sharing nuclear secrets with Iran, Libya and North Korea. President Musharraf announced that he had pardoned Khan for his transgressions in view of the fact that Khan was a national icon for what he had done for the development of Pakistan’s nuclear capability. He even allowed Khan to enjoy the wages of his sin. But President Bush himself told the world: ‘the picture of the Khan network was pieced together over several years by American and British intelligence officers.’ He went on to suggest several measures to be put in place in order to counter the kind of network that Khan and his associates had operated. As for Pakistan’s role in the sordid drama, President Bush was happy that ‘President Musharraf has promised to share all the information he learns about the Khan network, and has assured us that his country will never again be a source of proliferation.’ It is quite possible that the nuclear assets of Pakistan are now under lock and key with US supervision. The seven proposals outlined by Bush were (1) strengthening of the Proliferation Security Initiative that involved physical interdiction of contraband material, (2) adoption of measures by the UN Security Council to criminalise proliferation, (3) disposal of Cold War weapons, (4) supply of fuel to nuclear reactors in countries that renounce enrichment and reprocessing, (5) restriction of supply of nuclear equipment only to those countries which have signed the Additional Protocol, (6) setting up of a committee of the IAEA Board to deal with safeguards and verification and (7) suspension of states under investigation for proliferation violation from the IAEA Board. Interestingly, as the New York Times pointed out quickly, Bush did not call for universalisation of the NPT. Parallel proposals made by ElBaradei, written a week earlier but published after the Bush speech, seemed to echo the US sentiments, but Elbaradei was more specific about a treaty-based export control system rather than a voluntary one. He also pointed to the possibility of toughening the NPT regime.
The Ides of March 2004 were critical for Iran and Libya as the board took up the reports on them. The Libya report was a fait accompli for the board. The beginning of the Libyan saga sounded like a crime thriller when the British PR Peter Jenkins told a group that one of the sons of Gaddafi surfaced in London and contacted the head of the British Intelligence to say that he had news for Prime Minister Tony Blair. Soon enough, Blair was on a plane to Washington, giving the impression that he was consulting President Bush on Iraq. The decision to hold secret discussions with Libya came out of that meeting in Washington and only a handful of people in the United States, the United Kingdom and Libya were aware of the negotiations. By the time the story broke in Vienna, the minutest details of the operation were already worked out and what was left for the IAEA was only to bless what was already agreed between the three countries. The director general’s report made it appear as though Libya announced its decision out of the blue and the IAEA did its duty afterwards, but the whole world knew the sequence of events.
The finding of the IAEA was that Libya, starting from the early eighties and continuing until the end of 2003, had imported nuclear material and conducted a wide variety of nuclear activities, which it had failed to report to the agency as required under safeguards agreement. It went on to enumerate a number of specific failures, for each of which Libya had undertaken remedial action or had agreed to do so. Libya’s policy of full transparency contrasted with the policy of Iran to reveal only the minimum necessary information on its own programme. The report also mentioned the ‘network’ of suppliers of sensitive nuclear material that had helped Libya to build up an impressive base to manufacture nuclear weapons and sought the assistance of the international community to expose the network. No country was mentioned even though ‘the tip of the iceberg’ was already spotted in Pakistan.
More than anything else, the board was embarrassed by the Libya report. There was nothing that the board could do except to approve what the Libyans had cooked up with the United States and the United Kingdom. Initially it appeared as though there were differences between Libya and the other two on the question of a report from the board to the Security Council that Libya was, in fact, in breach of the obligations under the safeguards agreement over an extended period of time. At a briefing given to the ambassadors of the member states of the board in Tripoli, Libyan authorities sought help to ensure that the board took no decision to report Libya to the Security Council. This was strange in itself, as Libya had already written to the Security Council in December 2003 that it had abandoned the path of acquiring nuclear weapons. Moreover, Libya had nothing to gain by not reporting to the Security Council, if it really had a change of heart. When the matter came to the NAM chapter, we agreed to ask that the matter should remain within the ambit of the board in response to the Libyan request in Tripoli. But we heard from the United Kingdom that, at a high-level meeting in London, Libya had agreed to a draft resolution that included a reference to the Security Council ‘for purposes of information only’.
The Libya-UK-US draft resolution showered praise on Libya for its exemplary step in surrendering its nuclear wealth to the United States and the United Kingdom, but at the same time, it established that Libya was in violation of its obligations and proposed a report to the Security Council. Most members of the board were uncomfortable with one part of the draft or another, but as it was presented as an agreed draft from the countries involved, it was approved with minor modifications to the text. The most important concern articulated, among others, by China and India was that the Libyan formula went against the principle of multilateral verification. The other was the implication that as long as a country rolled up and eliminated its nuclear capability, its past actions would be forgotten. Iran felt uncomfortable as it appeared as though the way for it would be to ‘do a Libya’ to escape censure. Egypt wanted to talk of the Libyan action as having contributed to the nuclear-weapon-free zones in Africa and the Middle East. The sponsors questioned whether Libya was really a part of the Middle East, but acquiesced in the amendment. The Libyan case was a fait accompli, and the board decision was meant only to record the case for posterity. The role of the IAEA was more in form than in substance.
The Iran saga continued through the March and June 2004 meetings. As Iran began answering questions about its nuclear programme, more and more issues surfaced and found their way into the director general’s report. Iran’s tactic was to give the barest minimum of information to the questions raised by the agency, but inevitably certain leads were picked up by the agency, which raised more questions. The new answers seemed to contradict the information provided earlier, but Iran appeared unconcerned that it had given partial or false information in the first instance. The two issues that remained unresolved were the source of traces of highly enriched uranium found in a laboratory and the reason for developing P2 centrifuges, which were unnecessary for power production. The wider question of the source of supply of nuclear material to DPRK, Iran and Libya also continued to be investigated. Iran’s answers to these questions remained incomplete as the June Board adopted yet another resolution, calling for greater cooperation on the part of Iran with the agency to resolve the remaining issues. The director general’s report to the June Board had made it clear that the matter could not be closed unless the remaining questions were answered and, therefore, none other than Iran favoured closing of the matter. The United States joined the EU in putting forward a mild resolution and the NAM countries diluted it further to reach a consensus. With the situation in Iraq deteriorating, the United States thought it prudent not to open another front in the Middle East. The Iranian capacity to muddle up the situation in Iraq must have been a factor in their calculation.
As my term as the governor for India drew to a close, I had intended to slow down my pace, but the last two months became hectic as the chairman of the board asked me to chair an important working group on technical cooperation. Over the years, the agency had been charging 8 per cent of the cost of the projects executed under the Technical Cooperation Programme from the recipient states as assessed programme costs (APs). But during the budget discussions in 2003, when an additional allocation was made for safeguards, the APC was suspended temporarily as a measure of reducing the burden of developing countries on the understanding that the matter would be considered by the June 2004 Board with a view to reinstating, abolishing or finding an alternate mechanism for it. My working group was entrusted with the task of formulating a recommendation for the board on the APC. The secretariat had formulated a number of options, and after examining them, we were supposed to come up with a concrete formula. The donors were adamant about reinstating the APC and the recipient states were equally firm about abolishing it. I managed to work out a compromise by which the payment was reduced to 5 per cent. In return, the recipients agreed to pay the charges in advance of the execution of the projects. Many weeks of negotiations were necessary to accomplish this, as the donors wanted the regional projects to be covered and the recipients wanted their ‘in kind’ contributions to be counted against their share. The debate was essentially about the principle of cost sharing, which was conceded by all. But the arrangements were an interim measure to be reviewed in 2006.
Many characterised the agreement I worked out as my legacy, but I preferred it to be called an uneasy compromise. India’s legacy, I said, to the IAEA was old and rich, and I was but a link in the long chain. I referred to the Ramayana and the Mahabharata panel in the boardroom and the bust of Homi Bhabha outside as the symbols of that rich Indian legacy. I said that the legacy would continue.
Ambassadors to the UN offices in Vienna must be the embodiments of all virtues, as the United Nations’ efforts to fight the evils of the world are concentrated in Vienna: clandestine nuclear activities, narcotic drugs and crimes, including terrorism. Then there is the UNIDO that promotes industrial development in developing countries. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), headed by an under secretary general, services the two—Commissions on Drugs and Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. The programmes of the UNODC are mainly funded by voluntary contributions and, therefore, are donor driven in most part, even though the executive director too has a role to play in determining the work programme. The UNODC has an office in India, but as we do not seek project assistance from donors, there are no major projects in India. But our involvement in the UNODC in Vienna is considerable in terms of developing the appropriate strategies for dealing with drugs and crime.
Whispers about mismanagement and corruption in the UNODC under the Executive Director Arlachi, an Italian professor and politician, greeted me on my arrival in Vienna. His German deputy, who was fired by Arlachi, came out with a series of revelations that found their way into the European press. Arlachi did not find much support from the ambassadors, as he had not bothered to cultivate them, but some of us had an open mind and urged restraint while the secretary general went into the allegations. The investigation by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the UN Ombudsman, did not back the corruption theory, but pointed out instances of wasteful expenditure such as the hiring of a marine adventurer who sailed around the world with a message against drugs and crime. The expenditure on the project was said to be about a million dollars. A decision was taken to terminate Arlachi’s contract, but he carried on for another year, while his successor, Antonio Costa, another Italian, this time a banker, was being selected. Costa came with a good reputation and goodwill and went about reforming the UNODC.
After my first intervention about the reform, in which I suggested a committee of permanent representatives to advise him on policy, Costa wrote to me, seeking my help in setting up an advisory board. But the donors, who had a cozy relationship with the executive director, were not particularly enthusiastic and Costa himself was quick to abandon the idea. Costa bristled with ideas, but did not seem to have a system of follow-up, a tragic flaw in his management style.
The finance and home ministries, which dealt with the Commissions on Drugs and Crime Prevention, respectively, sent large delegations to the sessions of the commissions, but left it to us in the mission to handle them. On the drugs front, our main concern was the falling market for legally cultivated opium. Together with Turkey, we worked for a consensus on the need to lift opium stocks from the legal producers every year. New producers like Australia and the United Kingdom also claimed a share of the market. Iran wanted to sell the stocks that they had seized at airports. But the international community largely met our concerns, even though our primitive methods of opium harvesting and the potential for diversion into the illegal market caused some complications.
The only UN institution in existence before 11 September 2001 to tackle terrorism, the Terrorism Prevention Branch (TPB), was located in Vienna as part of the UNODC. Once the Security Council established the Counter Terrorism Committee (CTC), the TPB became an adjunct of the CTC. Pakistan and Iran, which did not like the TPB because of a database it created of terrorist organisations, including some from Iran and Pakistan, raised the issue of duplication and tried to destroy it. We managed to keep the TPB alive with additional resources, but its role got confined to technical assistance as a result of the turf war between New York and Vienna.
Intergovernmental negotiations on a UN Convention Against Corruption kept us busy for two years, but the speed with which it was negotiated and adopted was a record of sorts. I chaired the Open-ended Expert Group to establish the parameters of the negotiations and completed its work effortlessly. The work of the expert group and the recent experience in Vienna of the negotiations on the Transnational Organized Crime speeded up the process of negotiations on the convention. The most important chapter in the Convention on ‘Return of Assets’ was to be negotiated under the chairmanship of Switzerland, but the perception of Switzerland as a haven for illegal assets was a sure recipe for disaster. Switzerland carried no credibility. The chairman, the ambassador of Colombia, came to me rather sheepishly and asked whether I could step in as the chairman of the group. I myself found the going tough, as there was really no meeting ground between the developed and the developing countries. The key to the solution was found when the developed countries indicated that certain categories of illegal assets could be returned without much trouble. I grasped the opportunity and slowly proceeded to expand the categories and eventually shaped a compromise that was accepted. The Arabs challenged the formulation in the Plenary, but even they were convinced after a full day of discussions that the package could not be improved. The Convention Against Corruption was adopted in Merida, Mexico, where India praised the convention, but did not sign it.
The UNIDO was on the verge of demise when an independent commission recommended its abolition in the early nineties. Its budget got slashed when the United States, Australia and Canada left the organisation. But a young and energetic former Minister of Argentina, Carlos Magarinos, breathed some new life into it when he took over as the director general. I arrived in Vienna on the eve of the end of his first term and he was a candidate for a second term. Even though an African candidate challenged him, I sensed that he had a good chance of winning. His record on India was also exceptionally good. My strong support for him led to a virtual consensus in the Asian group in the Industrial Development Board, and Magarinos won his second term. I worked with him on several issues and helped him to register many successes in the reform of the UNIDO. He reciprocated my support in several ways, particularly in developing a good country programme for India. I accompanied him to Kerala to participate in a ceremony to mark the inauguration of a centre to develop small hydel projects. His fiancée, Belen, accompanied him on this trip and returned pregnant. Magarinos had something to treasure from his trip to Kerala. Magarinos was a wheeler-dealer in many ways and played games with the secretariat as well as members, but his contribution to the UNIDO was substantial.
We felt that, as the UNIDO had regained its role and reputation, the time had come to try to get the United States and others back into it. We moved a resolution in the board to initiate discussions with nonmembers, including former members. The concerned countries showed some receptivity to this initiative. I joined the Italian PR on a mission to the United States to discuss the possibilities. The United States ruled out its return to the UNIDO in the short term, but agreed to work with it on projects, particularly in post-conflict situations. Interestingly, one argument we heard on the Hill against the UNIDO was that it might create competition for the US goods in the developing countries. Nothing could be more far-fetched than this. How can a small investment in technology transfer in the developing countries challenge the massive industrial machinery of the United States? I felt that it was necessary to remove such misgivings by lobbying public opinion within the United States. It cannot remain for long outside a UN agency that is considered essential for the industrial development of developing countries.
My tenure in Vienna came to an end, together with my career in the Indian Foreign Service, on 30 June 2004. From nuclear issues to drugs and crime, there were a variety of issues to deal with and I immersed myself in them with gusto. Many of these issues did not interest the Ministry of External Affairs, as they belonged to the other ministries and departments. But in Vienna itself, there was recognition of my contribution and India became a crucial delegation. Every agency in Vienna looked up to us for leadership and banked on us to find solutions to intricate problems. I had what I called a ‘dream team’ in the embassy. Hamid Ali Rao, the DCM, with whom I had worked before, kept a low profile, but gave me a solid support. Suchitra Durai, whose marriage to another colleague R. Swaminathan delighted all of us, had the right mix of intelligence and enthusiasm. Hemant Karkare was competent and loyal. Ramesh Deshpande of the Department of Atomic Energy was active and helpful. The head of chancery, young Tanmaya Lal, was shy, but solid. The Vienna-based staff, most of them Keralites, proved to be the backbone of the embassy. The mission was free of the petty squabbles and problems that normally plague similar establishments. The mission I inherited had reminded me, as I said in a letter to Foreign Secretary Lalit Mansingh, of the Fifth Act of a Shakespearean tragedy, but, with a swift clean-up and deft handling, the place was set right.
The Vienna Chancery was a blot on an elegant city and a disgrace to India. Having been neglected for many years, it had become an eyesore. Mercifully, the ministry let my office move out to new premises, but it took me my full term and more to complete the renovation work. I had planned to complete it before leaving, but I barely managed to start the actual work. It was a classic case of procedural delays, as no one questioned the need to undertake the work and the funds were approved fairly early. Considering the kind of questions asked and the conditions imposed, it is a wonder that we were able to complete the renovation process even in three years. I did not move to the new premises, but I was glad to bequeath a new office to my successor as my legacy.