Burns to set N-talks table for Bush

Burns's impending visit is being seen as a last-ditch effort to save the N-deal.
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Updated on Feb 22, 2006 03:36 AM IST
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None | ByNilova Roy Chaudhury, New Delhi

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns will be in Delhi on Thursday (February 23) in what is being seen as a last-minute attempt to salvage the Indo-US nuclear deal before US President George W Bush's arrival.

Analysts say the spate of recent statements on nuclear energy, including by Bush, and Burns' own assessment that the deal is “90 per cent” ready indicates that Washington is keen on having a “big ticket” item on the agenda for the President's visit, beginning March 1.

Progress of talks on the July 18 deal has been held up by a series of objections from within the Indian atomic energy establishment to what were called the US' “shifting goal posts”. Objections centred around the fast breeder reactor programme, which the US sought to be placed in the Indian list of civilian reactors, that could be placed under international safeguards.

According to senior officials, the programme is “at a prototype stage”, and not ready for inclusion in a list of India's civil nuclear reactors.

Objections to the deal have also multiplied from the strong non-proliferation lobby within the US, which doesn't favour a one-time waiver for India.

The “successful” outcome of French President Jacques Chirac's visit, with an Indo-French nuclear pact in place, will boost efforts to get the Indo-US agreement through, analysts say. But for the Indo-French agreement to take off, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) will have to amend its regulations for India. That, in turn, is predicated on a successful conclusion of the Indo-US agreement.

“France has been fighting for us at the NSG,” SK Jain, CMD, Nuclear Power Corporation, told HT. He added: “They are well versed on the state of our negotiations with the US. They don't have any internal compulsions (like the need to amend internal legislation, unlike the US) and are waiting for the go-ahead from the NSG” before they can begin nuclear trade, in the form of reactors, with India.

India has already begun negotiations for nuclear power reactors from France, which has “state-of-the-art” nuclear equipment, including a 1,000 MW reactor to be located in Jathapur, Maharashtra.

“Ideally, India is looking at procuring six to eight reactors from France,” Jain said. This includes the 1,650 MW EPRs (European Power Reactors), which are “completely state-of-the-art”.

However, Jain added, “until NSG rules are amended, France cannot sell either reactors or nuclear fuel” to India, even though collaboration with France has been “ongoing” in aspects of nuclear safety and R&D.

According to Jain, the “draconian measures” imposed on India for over three decades can't “disappear in some weeks, and it will take time”.

Burns, the pointsperson for the dialogue from the US side, is scheduled to hold detailed discussions with his counterpart, foreign secretary Shyam Saran, on Thursday and Friday.

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