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US champions nuclear deal in NSG

india Updated: Dec 14, 2006 14:00 IST
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With US President George W Bush expected to sign the enabling legislation on the India-US civil nuclear deal into law on Monday, Washington has started championing India's cause in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Passage of the India bill by US Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support "is a very powerful message to the NSG countries that the US is going to push very hard for India and be India's champion at the NSG. That's the message we are getting out to all the countries that sit on the NSG," Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R Nicholas Burns said on Wednesday.

"The deal in the Congress is going to have a galvanizing effect on the NSG. I suspect strongly that some countries are just waiting to see whether or not the United States will fully commit itself to the deal," Washington's chief negotiator on the deal told Indian correspondents in a teleconference here.

Burns, who was on a four-day visit to India when the US Congress passed the legislation, said he had been working with the NSG to convince them to agree by consensus that international (nuclear) practice must be changed to accommodate New Delhi after the deal and he was pretty confident that they would do so.

He was also confident that China too would eventually back the agreement, notwithstanding negative commentary from Beijing's state-run media. "I'd be very surprised if China tried to block the deal...I think China understands how important this deal is, " he said.

Burns said Washington was now awaiting New Delhi's response to a draft proposal he had left behind for the conclusion of the so-called 123 Agreement, named after the relevant section of the US Atomic Energy Act 1954 for nuclear cooperation with foreign countries. "I am sure it will come quickly," he added.

"Once we get the response to our proposal, we will make sure that our team is available immediately for a meeting," he said.

As indicated by India's chief negotiator Shyam Saran and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, "all of us want to push these negotiations forward on a very rapid pace in January and February and I am optimistic that we'll be able to complete this," Burns said.

The US official said he has briefed Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and some of his European counterparts about the agreement and the response had been positive.

But any announcement about countries supporting the new arrangement should come from the countries themselves, he said, disclosing that that even before the legislation was passed a majority of the NSG members supported the deal.

Brushing aside residual opposition to the agreement in both US and India, Burns said any democratic society would have people on the opposite side of the barricade. The Indian government had assured him that they would go ahead with the agreement, he added.

Referring to specific objections which critics in India claim will constrain India's nuclear programme, Burns maintained the actions that Congress took were fully commensurate with the joint statements made by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and any remaining objections had been addressed in the Congress' final conference report.

Stressing that the US is going to meet all commitments it has made to India, the senior US official said, "I want to say how pleased we are at the reception that the civil nuclear agreement has received in India."

"We know that Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee has spoken in the Parliament and we are convinced on the basis of my trip and my discussion with the Indian leadership that this is the right way forward," he said.

"I was able to communicate to the Indian government on behalf of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush that the US is going to meet all the commitments it made to India in both the July 2005 Joint Statement and in the March 2006 Joint Statement," Burns said.

"We are now very optimistic that the Congress having taken this action, the Indian government having decided that it wishes to go forward, we have now cleared the major hurdles," he said.

Describing the passage of the reconciled legislation to implement the nuclear deal as a "...very positive moment in the history of US-India relations going all the way back to 1947," Burns said, "This is one of the biggest breakthroughs we have had and I can tell you there is a great deal of optimism in my government about the way forward."

Rejecting reports that the Left parties in India had refused to sit down with him to discuss the civilian nuclear deal as "erroneous", he said, ""I don't believe so. I was not aware that they had decided not to meet with me and I didn't seek a meeting with the left parties. That is erroneous actually."

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