Ahead of a key meeting next week between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United States President George W Bush in Germany, US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns held a series of meetings on Thursday to try and seal the 123 Agreement.
After eight hours of negotiations, Indian and US officials managed to considerably reduce differences between them. “It’s been a good day. There has been progress; we have managed to reduce the gaps on all issues,” said a source.
However, equally tough negotiations are likely on Friday before both sides can claim the deal is sealed.
Before a meeting with Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, Burns said there had been progress on the agreement and the two countries were “almost there” but “some hard work has to be done”. After meeting Menon, Burns — with his technical advisors Richard Stratford and Ashley Tellis and the US delegation — met S Jaishankar, India’s high commissioner to Singapore; SN Grover and other representatives from the Department of Atomic Energy and Ministry of External Affairs. He also held detailed discussions with the PM’s special envoy on the Indo-US nuclear deal, Shyam Saran, and Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.
According to sources, the discussions focused on the issue of prior consent for India to reprocess spent fuel, a key Indian concern, and on the absence of a safeguarded reprocessing facility in India, a concern the US has expressed.
Burns will meet Menon again on Friday, after which he is likely to meet External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, sources said.