After the US, Switzerland, Mexico and Latvia, it’s Britain that has backed India’s NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) membership bid.

On Friday, British Prime Minister David Cameron assured his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi of London’s “firm support” for New Delhi’s membership bid. During their telephonic conversation, Prime Minister Cameron told Modi that Britain wanted India to join the elite Group as its 49th member. The Indian PM thanked Cameron for his assurance, saying that it was a huge boost for New Delhi ahead of the nuclear trading club’s crucial June 20-24 meeting in the South Korean capital of Seoul.

Addressing a press conference in London, a senior Downing Street spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister spoke to the Indian Prime Minister Modi about India’s application for membership of the NSG, a group of nuclear supplier countries that works together to prevent nuclear proliferation by controlling the export of materials, equipment and technology that can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons.” He said: “The PM confirmed that the UK would firmly support India’s application. They agreed that in order for the bid to be successful, it would be important for India to continue to strengthen its non-proliferation credentials, including by reinforcing the separation between civil and military nuclear activity.”

The spokesperson told the press that the two leaders also discussed different aspects of bilateral ties over phone. “They agreed that the UK-India relationship was going from strength to strength, including through the recent visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and wife Kate),” he added.

Although the US and the UK have strongly pushed India’s case for NSG membership, China, New Zealand, Ireland, Turkey, South Africa and Austria are opposing India’s admission. China has urged the NSG member countries not to allow a country, which has not signed Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to become a member of the elite group. The top Chinese political leadership are of the opinion that if the NSG extends any exemption for India, then Pakistan should also become a member of the Group.

Meanwhile, India has strongly criticised its northern neighbour, saying that China opposing its membership makes little sense apart from power politics to boost Pakistan. India wants to be a part of NSG to become, among other things, a nuclear supplier. New Delhi also seeks to expand its civil nuclear sector and be able to shape the rules of nuclear trade. In 2008, the South Asian country received a special waiver to conduct nuclear commerce from NSG. However, it still remains out of the Group. Prime Minister Modi has made clear that India wants to legitimise its role by getting in.

If India has to become a part of the elite Group, the member countries must unanimously agree to it. The standing between India and its NSG entry is China, which is believed to be backing Pakistan and has made India signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) a pre-condition to its entry. As the NPT limits the possession of nuclear materials to the Big Five (China, The US, The UK, Russia and France), India is against signing the treaty. Meanwhile, China wants NSG to frame certain other criteria for non-NPT members.

Although Turkey, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa and Austria are said to be backing the Chinese stand, some media reports claim that several countries, previously opposed to New Delhi’s membership, have softened their resistance. However, China continues to oppose India’s candidature, prompting India to seek others’ support. In such a situation, Prime Minister Cameron’s phone call to Modi is an important development for India (especially ahead of the Seoul meet).

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]