Journalist | Writer | Analyst
After the failure of technical talks in London, Nicholas Burns is set to try one last attempt at pushing through a deal before Manmohan and Bush meet on the sidelines of the G* Outreach meeting in Germany next week.
28 May 2007
India, U.S. nuclear talks set for this week
New Delhi: With major differences over the contours of the proposed India-U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement still persisting, Washington’s point man on the issue is coming here this week for another round of talks aimed at closing the deal.
According to official sources, U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns will arrive on May 31 and hold talks with Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon.
Asked for confirmation of these dates, a U.S. Embassy spokesperson said a formal announcement to this effect had not yet been made in Washington.
The idea of Mr. Burns’ visit “in the second half of May” was first flagged by the U.S. State Department after his meeting with Mr. Menon in Washington on May 1. Though both claimed that “considerable progress” was made, their technical teams failed to reach agreement in subsequent parleys, resulting in postponement of Mr. Burns’ visit.
Senior officials here familiar with the status of the talks on the accord — known as the `123′ agreement — told The Hindu on Sunday that the technical talks in London on March 20 and 21 could not lead to resolution of outstanding differences on a range of outstanding issues. Top among these is Washington’s insistence on including legal penalties in the event of a nuclear test by India, something New Delhi says it never agreed to in the July 2005 agreement.
“The reality is that we find ourselves stuck with an American law that has not been amended and was never sought to be amended (by the Bush administration),” an official said, referring to the section of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act that mandates the incorporation of a nuclear test penalty clause in any bilateral agreement with a country that is not a nuclear weapons state under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“Even though we made this point repeatedly, they sought to ignore it. So now we are both stuck,” he said.
London meet failed to bridge differences over 123 pact
Further rounds of technical discussions necessary to address India’s concerns
New Delhi: Despite India’s insistence that the draft 123 agreement cannot treat it as a non-nuclear weapons state as far as the implications of a nuclear test under domestic U.S. statute are concerned, American negotiators say the administration’s hands are tied by the Atomic Energy Act and the Hyde Act passed by Congress last December.
During last week’s technical talks in London, all the U.S. side was willing to concede was the possibility that the penalties and liabilities flowing from any future nuclear test could be “padded” to make them less onerous for India. But this would still involve India conceding that a future test could have adverse legal consequences.
The second major issue on which no progress was made in the London meeting is another deal killer — the American refusal to accept India’s demand for the inclusion within the 123 of reprocessing rights for spent fuel produced by any U.S. reactors the country may import.
On this, as well as the question of India accessing reprocessing and enrichment equipment and technology, the U.S. said the agreement could incorporate “forward looking language” but this falls short of the kind of water-tight commitment India says it needs. Though reprocessing rights belong entirely in the domain of executive policy, Indian officials said the American side is citing potential difficulties with Congress as one reason why the 123 agreement cannot give India prior consent.
As for fuel-supply guarantees and fall-back safeguards, each side remains wary of the other’s draft language.
At the London meeting, say officials, the Indian side raised a number of questions linked to lacunae in the Hyde Act passed by Congress last December as well to concerns emanating from the U.S. draft of the 123 agreement. “These questions have yet to be answered,” said one official.
Though Indian officials anticipate Mr. Burns would like to make one final attempt to strike a deal in the run-up to next week’s meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush at the G-8 forum in Germany, the general assessment is that further rounds of technical discussions will be necessary to address India’s concerns.
Indeed, the timing of Mr. Burns’ impending visit has taken South Block somewhat by surprise since at least two important members of the Indian negotiating team are scheduled to be away at the time.