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India to Allow More International Monitoring of Atomic Program

India on Monday announced it would sign an international protocol that permits greater monitoring of its civilian nuclear program by a U.N. agency.

"I can confirm that we are ratifying the Additional Protocol to the [International Atomic Energy Agency] Safeguards Agreement," Syed Akbaruddin, spokesman of the Indian external affairs ministry, was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The Additional Protocol permits International Atomic Energy Agency officials to conduct surprise inspections of member countries' nuclear facilities and to keep tabs on environmental conditions that could reveal activities related to an illicit warhead program. India developed atomic weapons outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

While Akbaruddin said the signing of the protocol demonstrated New Delhi's commitment "to the responsible use of nuclear power," nonproliferation experts were skeptical of how much impact the move would have.

"India's entire nuclear weapons program is totally outside the scope of its Additional Protocol," said Mark Hibbs, an atomic expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "It isn't clear to most people what the utility of the Additional Protocol in India is as a verification instrument."

Rather, "India sees its ratification of its Additional Protocol as an arrow in its quiver supporting its quest for [Nuclear Suppliers Group] membership," Hibbs said.

The Nuclear Suppliers Group is an exclusive multinational export-control group that seeks to limit member nations' atomic trade to countries that have signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. India received a waiver from the trade group in 2008 to conduct nuclear commerce with its members. New Delhi has waged a thus-far-unsuccessful diplomatic campaign to be awarded membership to the 48-member country body.

Fresh concerns were raised last week about India's expansion of its nuclear arms-production capacity with the release of an independent research group's findings that the South Asian country was almost finished constructing a second uranium-enrichment plant near Mysore.

Indian officials reacted angrily to the report, accusing it of being "mischievously timed" to a coming meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, The Hindu newspaper reported on Saturday.

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