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India hopeful of clinching IAEA pact soon

India on Thursday says it was "not looking at any deadlines" but was "hopeful" of concluding its safeguards pact with the IAEA soon.

india Updated: Feb 28, 2008 15:24 IST

With the clock ticking away for its nuclear deal with the US, India on Thursday said it was "not looking at any deadlines" but was "hopeful" of concluding its safeguards pact with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) soon.

"We are not looking at deadlines. It takes two hands to clap. We are hoping to wrap it (IAEA pact) up," Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told reporters on the sidelines of the 6th summit of the India-US high technology cooperation group.

"Like last time, we are hoping to conclude it (the IAEA pact) this time round. When we are there, we will let you know," he replied when asked if he was hopeful of India concluding the safeguards pact with the IAEA at the fifth round of negotiations that are currently on in Vienna.

Although he didn't say in so many words, he hinted the negotiations may take another round to complete due to the complexity of India-specific safeguards arrangement.

"Discussions have taken place on all issues related to a safeguard agreement and during the first four rounds. Substantial progress has been made," Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Prithviraj Chavan told Parliament on Thursday.

"Further discussions were scheduled Feb 25-27. All efforts are being made to complete the process as soon as possible. However, it is difficult to prejudge when the talks are likely to become a success," he added.

The fifth round of talks, which was expected to end on Wednesday, have, however been extended by a day and may last till the end of the week, official sources said.

Asked about the way the negotiations with the IAEA were going, Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar told IANS on Thursday: "I am optimistic about it. I will be satisfied provided the results are according to our requirements."

Pressing for an end of the technology denial regime, Menon also made a strong pitch for the US to bring its regulatory and licensing framework for high technology trade in line with the current level of India-US strategic partnership.

The safeguards pact aims at ensuring uninterrupted fuel supply for civilian reactors India will place under safeguards and the right to take corrective action in case the fuel supply is interrupted.

It is taking longer than expected as the IAEA standard template does not apply to India, which has nuclear weapons but has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and yet desires to join global civil nuclear commerce.

Moreover, the IAEA is not a supplier of fuel and, therefore, cannot act as a guarantor of fuel supply.

The 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group has to then decide on changing its guidelines to allow the resumption of global nuclear commerce with India.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday reminded Indian leaders that "the clock is ticking" to conclude the nuclear agreement before the US Congress gets entangled in election-year politics.

Recently, the three influential US senators who visited India reminded New Delhi that it must wrap up its IAEA pact by May so that the deal can be ratified by before July-end by the US Congress which will make the deal operational.

The Left allies of the government virtually hold the veto over the nuclear deal as it is only after they approve India's safeguards pact with the IAEA the government can proceed with the deal.