Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

Nuclear talks reach stalemate

As expected, American intransigence on giving India the right to reprocess spent fuel as well as on other issues led to an impasse, with the three-day long technical interaction betweenn the two sides in Delhi ending inconclusively on Saturday.

3 June 2007
The Hindu

Stalemate on reprocessing issue
Menon says “we still have some distance to travel”

Siddharth Varadarajan

NEW DELHI: After three straight days of hardnosed negotiations over their proposed nuclear cooperation agreement, India and the United States have hit an impasse with no real progress registered on the major issues separating them.

Though some minor questions have been cleared up, senior Indian officials familiar with the course of the negotiations told The Hindu that a “stalemate” was reached late Friday night on several issues — including the right to reprocess spent fuel produced by any imported reactor — and that Saturday’s discussions could not resolve matters.

Indian officials declined to characterise the situation as a “deadlock” and said more time was needed. “But if there are no reprocessing consent rights, then we simply can’t proceed,” said an official, referring to the process — integral to India’s indigenous civil nuclear programme — of converting the spent fuel produced by a nuclear reactor into fresh fuel for use in a fast breeder reactor.

Officials also sense a certain hardening of the American position on reprocessing since the past few meetings on the `123 agreement’. “Whatever reprocessing we wish to do with imported fuel or reactors would be under international safeguards but the U.S. side is simply unwilling to accept our right to reprocess,” said an official, blaming the “non-proliferation lobby” in Washington for the impasse.

At a press conference on Saturday evening, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon confirmed that reprocessing rights was one of the issues still under discussion but declined to elaborate on any specifics. Striking a positive tone, he described the three days of discussions with the U.S. team led by Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns as “intensive, productive and constructive” but said the two sides “still have some distance to travel.”

Flanked by S. Jaishankar of the Ministry of External Affairs and R.B. Grover of the Department of Atomic Energy — both key members of the Indian negotiating team — Mr. Menon said that of the several issues which were still open “we have managed to remove some but some still remain.”

India’s goal, he said, is “to reach [a 123] agreement which fully reflects the July 18, 2005 and March 2, 2006 agreements, as well as the Prime Minister’s statement in Parliament.” A separate statement issued by the U.S. embassy on Saturday night said that India and the U.S. had made “some progress” on the 123 but “more work remains to be done to complete arrangements that will permit a civil nuclear agreement to be finalised.”

Though no dates have been fixed for the next round of talks, Mr. Menon said both sides “need a little time to think over what we’ve done over the past few days.”

He said India did not believe in setting dates or deadlines but expressed his confidence that an agreement would eventually be clinched. “All told, [Mr. Burns’s visit] has been positive and useful. This has taken us some way forward towards our goal — a 123 agreement which reflects in legal terms what our leaders have already agreed to.”

Mr. Menon said the reason he and Mr. Burns did not address a joint press conference was because the U.S. Under Secretary had a flight to catch. When Mr. Burns arrived in Delhi three days ago, however, Indian officials had planned to end his visit with a joint press conference.

Before his departure, Mr. Burns paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Mr. Menon also said that External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee had extended an invitation to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to visit India.

3 comments on “Nuclear talks reach stalemate

  1. satish
    June 6, 2007

    US intentions are very clear here1) By denying strategic fuel reserves for operating life of a reactor they are trying to convert voluntary moratorium into permanent one through indirect means and also gain substantially gain influence on Indian foreign policy. They can also squeeze out our strategic sector slowly by fuel supply disruptions.2) Reprocessing is all about GNEP, FBR and AHWR. As per my understanding India has no intention of placing FBR’s in civilian list at all or FBR may be safeguarded under campaign mode like the reprocessing facility.I think US goal is to get FBR’s and all future reactors including AHWR under permanent safeguards. They can accomplish this if they can get the 123 agreement done with out giving out reprocessing rights. They can bargain in future and arm twist us into placing FBR’s and AHWR reactors in civilian list in return for GNEP and/or reprocessing.3) If what is written in telegraph []is true. There are certain sections in US draft that prohibit India from converting thorium to U233. This a clear attempt to knife our 3 stage program.There are lot more important things that US do not want Indians (media and common people) to understand about. I do not want to elaborate on all the stuff but, ultimately it all boils down to controlling future energy source and future NSG+ -> GNEP.If we hurry up into this deal with out getting explicit wording and guarantees about our rights or knowledge about FBR’s and Thorium research will be stolen in broad day light before our eyes and we will remain as a recipient nation for decades to come.

  2. Mayurdas Bholanath
    June 4, 2007

    Interesting image to go with the article. Black, with only one lone piece on the board, has already been check mated. But who is playing “White”, US or India? If “Black” is supposed to be India, then I would imagine that like a good chess player, it should have “resigned” long ago seeing the position on the board (read “writing on the wall”)! Now they simply have to accept defeat and stop playing games!Incidentally, if technology for including images in user responses can also be added by, then it will be very nice indeed. In jest, we can then have a “war of pictures” rather than a mere “war of words”!

  3. Anonymous
    June 4, 2007

    It is about time our PM dumps this nuclear deal and comes up with something different. It has been widely expected from the start this deal will fail. I am surprised this dragged on for such a long time. It is best if India does not involve US for its energy security. US law is very tight and it is best for India to make deals with Iran and other countries for its energy security. India needs to invest huge amount of capital and research in Uranium mining. We have to create mega plans for coal based power plants.

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This entry was posted on June 3, 2007 by in Nuclear Issues.



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