The endgame of the Indo-US nuclear deal could be as easy as 123. As New Delhi has been at pains to point out, the civilian nuclear cooperation bill that was passed by the US Congress tells the US government what it can and cannot do. What is required of the Indian government will be defined in the yet-to-be completed 123 Agreement.
The 123 Agreement is the bilateral pact between the Indian and US governments which sets out how exactly the two countries will cooperate in nuclear materials, equipment and fuel.
New Delhi hopes the 123 document will kill a lot of continuing criticism of the Indo-US nuclear bill passed by the US Congress late on Friday. For example, the rhetorical clauses on Iran policy and fissile material capping will disappear in the 123 Agreement. So will references to the reports the White House will have to present to the Congress on India’s nuclear programme.
One area of substance that Indian negotiators will seek to weaken in the 123 Agreement is the Senator Barack Obama amendment which limits the supply of nuclear fuel reserve to India for use in civilian reactors. The amendment limits it to “reasonable reactor operating requirements” and defining “reasonable” will be a key negotiating task.
The bulk of the 123 Agreement has already been negotiated in earlier bilateral technical talks. “There was even talk of finishing it during the Nicholas Burns visit to India so that if the US Congress met in December, it could be passed as well,” says non-proliferation expert Anupam Srivastava of the University of Georgia.