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PM statement on N-deal today

Deal may collapse if India's concerns are not reflected in 123 Agreement, reports Nilova Roy Chaudhury.

india Updated: Aug 17, 2006 13:55 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will on Thursday make a statement in Parliament on the current status of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal to address political concerns about it.

He will attempt to dispel the concerns and give "a clear message" that the government has not, and will not, compromise on its strategic programme or indigenous R&D capability.

Government and official sources said there had been no change or forward movement on the proposed bilateral agreement either in the US Houses of Congress or with the Nuclear Suppliers Group, or the IAEA since the PM last made a statement on July 27.

On Wednesday, to prepare for the statement and to ensure that the concerns of the scientific community — reflected in Monday's letter by top nuclear scientists — were addressed, the PM held an "internal, high-level review" of the deal, the sources said.

Those present at the meeting included Atomic Energy Commission chief Anil Kakodkar, NSA MK Narayanan, principal secretary to PM TKA Nair, scientific adviser R Chidambaram and foreign secretary Shyam Saran.

The government sources said there was no constitutional provision for Parliament to review the government’s agreements with other countries.

They said for the government to allow a resolution reflecting the ‘sense of the House’ would require a constitutional amendment.

The sources said the goalposts had not been shifted and the government had the option to walk away from the deal unless its concerns — outlined in the July 18, 2005, joint statement — were completely reflected in the bilateral 123 Agreement it was working on with the US administration.

Singh has acknowledged that are elements in the bill before the US Senate "which are of concern to us". But he has had an "assurance" from Bush that his administration will do all it can to see that the "goal posts of July 18 are not tampered with".

The concerns relate to a variety of issues: a clause in the Senate bill that requires the US president to annually certify that India is not testing nuclear weapons; the end uses of nuclear waste from the civilian reactors; the conditionality involved in providing nuclear 'dual-use' technologies. Also, that indigenous R&D could be hampered by external controls over research facilities.

Bush is said to be lobbying hard with the US Senate and Congress to ensure that Indian concerns over aspects of the House of Representatives and draft Senate bills did not find mention in the binding clauses of the final India-specific waiver to the US Atomic Energy Act. The presidential waiver would be a one-time matter and would not require annual certification.

The sources said the fast-breeder reactor (FBR) programme, for example, was part of the civilian nuclear programme, according to the Department of Atomic Energy's annual report. But only to ensure that there was no international scrutiny of its indigenous R&D capability, the Kalpakkam FBR facility has been kept out of the civilian list in the Separation Plan the PM presented to Parliament in March. Similarly, the BARC complex is completely out of external purview.

Critics have also complained about the part of the deal that requires the White House to report to the US Congress on the nature and extent of the Indian nuclear programme. But diplomatic sources said such reports were only symbolic acts and "they all end up in the dustbin".