India will not budge on spent fuel

India is going to stick to its stand on the key issues of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel and the creation of a strategic fuel reserve, senior Government officials said ahead of next week’s talks with the US on the civilian nuclear cooperation deal.

National Security Adviser MK Narayanan, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Anil Kakodkar are scheduled to hold talks with the American side in Washington, DC, on July 17 and 18.

The Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a group of women journalists on July 5 that a couple of issues still have to be sorted out with the US. “Issues have to be sorted out before we reach a solution. We have to wait for the outcome,” the prime minister said.

Earlier, on June 27, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was quoted as saying about the talks: “Had this been easy it would have been done a long time ago,” adding: “I cannot tell you how much the world is watching to see if we can complete this.”

The officials described as a “generic issue” the all-important question of cessation of cooperation, a key clause in the Hyde Act. New Delhi is keen that any investment made in the civilian nuclear field should be protected in the bilateral agreement it’s trying to clinch with the US.

India, which has recently proposed the creation of a safeguarded reprocessing facility, believes that the cessation of cooperation issue is important in all aspects of the civilian nuclear deal — investments made by India could not be made totally infructuous, the officials argued.

Clearly, a major diplomatic pressure game is in motion between India and the US, which is linked to the prime minister accepting President George W. Bush’s invitation for a bilateral visit to Washington.

According to the officials, the prime minister will accept the invitation only if the bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation agreement is ready for signing during the visit.

In the end, it appears that a positive end to the talks could well hinge on whether the Indians or the Americans blink first.


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