Journalist | Writer | Analyst
3 May 2007
India, U.S. claim progress in talks
Delhi says issues still remain to be settled
* U.S. speaks of “final agreement” by May-end
* `No point solving specific issues through the media: Shivshankar Menon
NEW DELHI: After two rounds of meetings in Washington, D.C., between Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, India and the United States publicly claimed that considerable progress had been made in the crucial `123 agreement’ on bilateral civil nuclear cooperation.
But where U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack sought to push the envelope by speaking of a “final agreement” by the end of May, Mr. Menon struck a more cautious note. “On the 123, we think we’ve made considerable progress forward and we now expect to welcome Under Secretary Burns later this month and we hope to finalise this as soon as we can.” But he also acknowledged that the two sides “still have issues to settle.”
Asked about the areas where progress had been made, the Foreign Secretary declined to get into specifics. “I have a deal with Nicholas Burns that we’re not going to get into the issues until we solve them all,” he told a press conference at the Indian Embassy. “I’m not going to get into individual issues because there’s no point trying to solve this through the media.”
Nor would he get drawn into endorsing the May-end prediction made by the U.S. “I think we’re both confident we can do this and the quicker the better… I think it’s doable … but as I said, we’ve made considerable progress but we still have issues to settle, but until we settle them all, I’m not going to say anything.”
Asked whether the “frustration” Mr. Burns spoke about last month now gave way to a more positive atmosphere, Mr. Menon replied: “I think you should ask the people who were frustrated. I have never said that.”
Taking a cue from the tenor of Mr. Menon’s remarks, senior Indian officials said a proper measure of the distance that remained between the two sides could only be established once the negotiators got into the specifics.
Generalities vs Specifics
“Agreeing on generalities doesn’t tell you much,” one official told The Hindu . “It is the specifics which matter.” And this is where it has become apparent that serious differences exist between both sides on issues ranging from the inclusion of a “right of return” and reprocessing to fuel guarantees and fallback safeguards for Indian reactors placed under IAEA supervision.
On its part, the State Department characterised the Menon-Burns discussions as positive. “The U.S. is encouraged by the extensive progress that was made on the issues,” an official release said.
The statement added that Mr. Burns would travel to Delhi in the second half of May “to reach a final agreement.”
In his daily interaction with beat reporters on May 1 before the final round of talks had ended, Mr. McCormack noted that the Foreign Secretary had come to Washington “with some constructive ideas.”
The U.S., he said, was confident that India was “ready to work in good faith to get an agreement.” But he added that “it’s going to require some creativity and some compromise on both sides.”
Asked by a reporter whether he and Mr. Burns had identified issues that could only be resolved when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush meet on the sidelines of the G-8 summit in Germany in June, Mr. Menon said the two sides would try and resolve the remaining issues at their next meeting in Delhi later this month.