Amid suggestions that the Indian government is going slow on negotiations for the 123 Agreement that will operationalise the bilateral civil nuclear deal, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon is visiting Washington on April 30.
According to officials who wish to remain unidentified, negotiations on the 123 Agreement are "progressing," and some public posturing is "normal negotiating strategy," they said when asked why American officials were being publicly critical of the Indian attitude. Indian and American officials met and discussed the bilateral 123 agreement on the sidelines of the plenary meeting of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group in Capetown last week.
There has been "a considerable narrowing of differences" on some key Indian concerns, officials said, primarily the issue of not including a clause in the bilateral agreement on immediate suspension of all commerce if India detonates a nuclear device. The US Atomic Energy Act of 1954 has a provision to suspend all civil nuclear commerce with a country detonating a nuclear device, and it is not possible to amend the Act for India. But it can be kept out of the language of the bilateral 123 Agreement.
The next major impetus to the negotiations that are stalled on Indian concerns about reprocessing of spent fuel is likely when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets President George W Bush Baltic resort of Heiligendamm in Germany in the first week of June. Both will attend the outreach session of the G-8 summit between June 6 and 8.
Officials from the Department of Atomic Energy are due to visit Vienna in May for talks on an India-specific safeguards agreement that has to be worked out for Indian civilian nuclear facilities.
According to a release from the Ministry of External Affairs on Tuesday, Menon's visit to Washington is primarily to continue the India-US dialogue on global issues of common concern in the format of the 5th Meeting of the India-US Global Issues Forum.
After meetings with Paula Dobriansky, US Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs and Democracy, Menon will meet the pointsperson for the civil nuclear deal, Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. Burns has recently expressed "frustration" at the Indian commitment to the deal during official negotiations.
Menon's meeting with Burns is expected to allay some American concerns on the outcome of the bilateral civil nuclear energy cooperation agreement.