The US has launched an initiative to change the international guidelines curbing the sale of nuclear materials by making a special case for India, but resistance from some members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) could slow the process, diplomats said on Monday.

Critics are concerned that if a precedent is set in India?s case, the non-proliferation efforts of the NSG will be weakened.

Under the US proposals, the 45 member nations of the NSG would be free to support India?s civilian nuclear programme under safeguards, even though India has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and not all its facilities are under international inspection.

The US plan follows a US-India agreement reached this month that would separate India?s civilian and military nuclear facilities and put eight more civilian facilities under UN safeguards.

At the same time as the US administration presented Congress last week with proposed legislation to exempt India from US prohibitions, it also circulated draft changes to the NSG, an informal association whose guidelines are not binding.

A copy of the draft obtained by the Financial Times welcomes commitments made by India to strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime while it retains the ability to expand its nuclear arsenal. Governments would be allowed to sell sensitive nuclear materials to India if they judge they are ?satisfied? that India is abiding by its new commitments.

The proposals will be discussed during two days of meetings of the NSG consultative group starting tomorrow in Vienna. The US wants to present the proposals for acceptance by the NSG at a plenary meeting in Brazil in May.

Governments that hope to do nuclear business with India ? namely France, Russia and the UK ? support the changes. But diplomats say others are sceptical and could hold up the process. Lobbying is expected to be intense, as decisions are taken by consensus.

Governments said to be concerned include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

China?s real position is not clear. It is concerned that a special case is being made for India, but can claim it has a stronger argument for going ahead with nuclear sales to Pakistan which has not signed the NPT either.

Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association policy group, says the proposed changes to the NSG guidelines ?establish a terrible precedent against everything the NPT system sought to achieve?.

Analysts said the Bush administration was trying to play Congress and the NSG off against each other. However, diplomats doubt the NSG would agree to changes before Congress.

?The wheels are falling off the NSG,? commented Henry Sokolski, who runs the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington, noting that Russia had already gone ahead by announcing it would supply nuclear fuel to India?s two safeguarded reactors at Tarapur.

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