Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon is bringing the Indo-US nuclear deal ball back to the Indian court with him from Washington. Officials familiar with the discussions on Monday and Tuesday say “the flexibility shown by the US side in this round of negotiations has opened up the possibility of a positive Indian response.”
According to one official, Menon is carrying back a number of suggestions and ideas from the United States, “but just how much can be acceptable to India remains to be determined.” He said the talks were more constructive than the last two rounds, and the US appeared “far more willing to look at solutions even if it meant a departure from established formulations.” He said that there could be no deal unless India, too, adopted a more accommodating posture. “Let’s not forget that the rigidities are there on both sides,” he said.
The official declined to give details of the specifics of the discussions that took place in Washington, noting that there was agreement by both sides to keep their current negotiations confidential.
But he did say that the attitude that pervaded the discussions was that of futility of going over the old ground, “and the need find out a way of moving ahead”.
Broadly, however, he said they were under the three heads reported earlier.
- The matter of the scope of the agreement. In other words, will there be “full” civil nuclear cooperation as promised in the July 18, 2005 agreement or will some issues be held back till there is common agreement. From India’s point of view this related to the need to ensure that it has the right to reprocess or enrich US-origin nuclear material.
- The question of assuring fuel for the life-time of a reactor in exchange for India placing that reactor under perpetual safeguards.
- What will happen if India tests a nuclear weapon again.
The official said that several options and formulations are on the table for all these issues, but they also come with specific choices that India needs to make. For example, “we can get reprocessing rights, but they will come with intensely intrusive inspections.” The question New Delhi would have to ask its Department of Atomic Energy is whether or not they can live with such a deal.