India’s Ambassador to the US, Ronen Sen, said he was “not pessimistic” about the successful completion of the 123 agreement negotiations. He noted that there had been “speculation” the agreement was in trouble but that such reports were “not necessarily true.”
Sen, speaking at a Yale University symposium on “US-India Strategic Relations” on Friday, said, “I can refute many of the things that have been put out, but it is not our policy to comment on negotiations.”
Recent articles in the US media had quoted officials like the State Department’s number three, Nicholas Burns, as expressing “frustration” at the pace of India’s negotiations with the US and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
India has to conclude a 123 Agreement with the US, an inspection agreement with the IAEA and, finally, get the approval of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to obtain international legitimacy and cooperation for its civilian nuclear programme.
Sen, alluding to this long process, said: “We have just completed two stages, we have to complete three more stages to finalise the agreement.”
Diplomatic sources say it seems Indian negotiators are holding out for concessions on India’s being allowed to reprocess nuclear fuel while the US wants India to be more flexible about having the unfettered right to hold nuclear tests.
The recent media reports saying India is dragging its heels are being seen by New Delhi as a pressure tactic by the US. Washington may be seeking to break the impasse within the Indian government caused by Department of Atomic Energy hardliners who want to scuttle the deal.
Teresita Schaffer, South Asia analyst for the Center of Strategic and International Studies, says, “It’s a tough negotiation and that’s what we’re seeing being played out right now.”
A concern on both sides is the unofficial deadline drawn by the coming US presidential campaign. “By September next year the US Congress will essentially cease to function because of the election. The 123 Agreement and various other negotiations need to be completed before that,” said a diplomat in Washington. It is widely believed that if the Democrats win the White House and control the US Congress, the civilian nuclear deal will be put off indefinitely.
The Brookings Institution’s South Asia expert, Stephen Cohen, warned, “I fear that this may be a deal too far, that there are too many groups in both countries who are not yet ready for such an agreement.”