American Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns is visiting New Delhi later this week to try and bring the 123 Agreement to closure ahead of the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George Bush in Germany in early June.
Burns, who was scheduled to visit India to “finalise” the 123 Agreement in the latter half of May, had said he would only come when there was progress in bridging the differences in positions between India and the United States.
The American Embassy and the Ministry of External Affairs confirmed on Monday that Burns, the key US interlocutor for the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, would be in town for talks with Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon on Thursday and Friday.
India’s High Commissioner to Singapore, S Jaishankar, who has been involved in negotiations on the deal from the beginning, is likely to arrive before Thursday to help Menon with the negotiations, which have reached the final lap.
“It (the deal) can be done,” a senior official involved with the talks said. “It will require a little flexibility from both sides, but we’re close,” the official said.
Officials, however, were very guarded in their comments and declined to spell out on what aspects of the negotiations India would need to be flexible.
“The drafting is not the problem,” an official said. “We have to see what ideas they bring in,” before the final agreement can be agreed upon. “They are an inter-related bunch of issues,” the official said, refusing to be drawn into which specific areas of concern still remain to be ironed out between the two sides.
Jaishankar and Richard Stratford, Director of Nuclear Energy, Safety and Security in the State Department, met in London last week to sort out some of the contentious issues between the two sides. Talks focused on sorting out issues in the text of the 123 agreement, including the right to reprocess spent fuel, perpetual supply of fuel for the life of safeguarded Indian atomic facilities, and non-inclusion of a ban on future Indian nuclear tests in the bilateral agreement.
Speaking at the Heritage Foundation recently, Burns said both sides were “90 per cent there.” Calling the deal good for the United States and India, Burns said it required a little compromise to reach the “mountain-top.”
Indian officials declined to go into percentages, but said the deal “could be done,” adding that they were optimistic, but would “only say it’s done when it is done.”
If concluded, the 123 Agreement, which will operationalise civil nuclear commerce between India and the US, though India has tested nuclear weapons and is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and reverse three decades of sanctions on nuclear trade with India and the world.