With the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) set to convene its plenary session in Poland in June, the bilateral engagement between New Delhi and Wellington on India’s bid to join the elite nuclear club gains a new impetus.

But the Government of India  appears to be ambivalent on the prospect or outcome of any future dialogue on the vexed issue, though sources say  talks hosted by New Delhi are in the offing.

The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) put out a statement in March that Wellington is not opposed in principle to India’s entry into the NSG and wants clear criteria for letting in countries that are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), such as India and Pakistan.

“NZ remains ready to continue the discussion on establishing clear and objective criteria against which applications for NSG membership by States not party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (including India) can be assessed,” MFAT said.

MFAT added that NZ would support India’s application “once the Group has agreed objective criteria.”

There appears to be a subtle shift toward a new flexibility in the position adopted by NZ  hitherto, which no doubt has not gone unnoticed at India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

However, this has neither led to a thaw nor served to spur the bilateral process on the issue. Instead, there appears to be the hint of a hardening on the Indian side.

This is apparent in the GOI response (or lack thereof) to Wellington’s “softening” on the membership question.

“The Government of India has no official response to the statement issued by MFAT,” said Kshitij Tyagi, Deputy Secretary, MEA.

This comes close on the heels of a meeting between the Divisional Manager, South East Asia Division (MFAT) and GOI representatives in Wellington recently. The distinct impression was that nothing had changed and that NZ was going forward with the two-step process mandated by NSG members.

New Delhi could be waiting for Wellington to formalise its latest position indicated by the MFAT statement before responding to it.

Constructive engagement between New Delhi and Wellington on India’s pending application at the NSG remains knotted around this insistence on a consensus.

India is apt to project its membership of the NSG as a twin objective alongside its aspiration to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. This is evident from  the communiques following  recent visits to Washington and Paris.  
If consensus at the NSG proves elusive, New Delhi may need to de-hyphenate the two goals in its quest for a leadership role in an emerging new world order.