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PM-Bush meeting to unlock 123 pact

The meeting could be crucial in resolving the persisting differences and in getting the nuclear agreement in place.

india Updated: Apr 26, 2007 14:26 IST

Even as Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon heads to Washington on Monday to breathe life into the shaky civil nuclear negotiations, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's meeting with President George W Bush in Germany in June is expected to overcome any remaining hiccups over a civil nuclear pact.

The Manmohan-Bush meeting in the Baltic resort of Heiligendamm on the sidelines of the G8 summit could prove to be crucial in resolving the persisting differences and get the 123 bilateral civil nuclear agreement in place, reliable sources told.

Menon's talks with Nicholas Burns, the US chief interlocutor on the nuclear deal, in Washington next week are expected to bring about greater clarity in each other's positions and how much elbow space each side is willing to concede for the final agreement.

Named after Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act, the 123 pact will have to find support with the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) before India can resume global nuclear commerce after a gap of over three decades. It will be the sole legal document defining civil nuclear commerce between India and the US.

Burns is also expected to come to India next month. If these two meetings do not resolve outstanding differences, making the prospect of the 123 agreement bleak, the only hope for a breakthrough lies in the talks Manmohan Singh will have with Bush from June 6-8 in Germany's oldest seaside spa town.

There is a growing feeling that negotiations that have so far been handled by top officials should be upgraded to the political level.

Differences over critical issues like India's insistence on not accepting nuclear test ban and including it in the 123 agreement and its demand for access to technologies related to reprocessing, enrichment and heavy water reduction can only be resolved at the political level, informed sources said.

According to K Subrahmanyam, who heads the prime minister's task force on global strategic developments, negotiations on the 123 pact may take some more time but grim portents should not be read into it.

Subrahmanyam, who has batted vigorously for the nuclear deal, is dismissive of those who fear the accord faces collapse.

"It's absolutely rubbish," Subrahmanyam told, referring to media reports predicting a rocky ride for the nuclear deal. "These negotiations take time, but it's all on course.

"The 123 agreement need not mention anything about nuclear test and ceasing of cooperation in the event of India conducting a nuclear test in the future. If India conducts the test, it should be ready to face the consequences," he said.

Besides moratorium on nuclear testing and access to reprocessing technologies, there are other critical areas where the US and India do not see eye to eye.

The US is insisting on a right-of-return clause for nuclear equipment and fuel sold under the agreement. This is not acceptable to India as it runs counter to the lifetime fuel supply assurances given by the US.

Washington's insistence on fallback bilateral safeguards in addition to the IAEA safeguards is also not acceptable to New Delhi.

Other issues that remain to be sorted out are the sequencing of the 123 negotiations and India's safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as well as the timing of NSG's decision to relax its guidelines in favour of global civil nuclear commerce with India.