With senior Indian and American officials in the midst of crucial discussions in Washington to conclude the 123 Agreement to operationalise Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday said the negotiations were in the final stages, but declined to set a time frame by which the deal would be sealed.
"We are in last leg of negotiations," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on the sidelines of a book release function, when asked about the status of ongoing discussions on the 123 Agreement. He did not set a time frame by which he felt the negotiations would be concluded.
A high level Indian delegation led by National Security Adviser (NSA) MK Narayanan is scheduled to meet the US NSA Stephen Hadley later on Wednesday night for what are considered vital talks to resolve outstanding differences between the two countries.
According to diplomatic sources, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has deferred her visit to Africa to be available in Washington in case her expertise is required to clinch the deal.
“I am an optimist,” a senior western diplomat said. “I believe the deal will be done and differences resolved.”
Differences persist between the two sides on the issue of India’s right to reprocess the spent fuel and India’s future right to test a nuclear device if it so requires. India has offered to build a dedicated reprocessing facility with the highest level of international safeguards to assuage American concerns on reprocessing.
However, according to a leading nuclear scientist, India's offer to set up a dedicated reprocessing facility would "slowdown" the country's crucial Fast Breeder Reactor programme to harness atomic energy. The dedicated reprocessing facility under international safeguards would affect India's independence in the area that is crucial to the country's three-stage nuclear programme, said AN Prasad, former director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.
Speaking at a seminar on Tuesday, Prasad said, "Having one dedicated reprocessing plant will create a lot of problems for the fast breeder reactor programme."