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Clinching N-deal is a matter of 123

What is required of the Indian Govt will be defined in the 123 agreement, reports Pramit Pal Chaudhuri. Final bill

india Updated: Dec 10, 2006 10:12 IST

The endgame of the Indo-US nuclear deal could be as easy as 123. As New Delhi has been at pains to point out, the civilian nuclear cooperation bill that was passed by the US Congress tells the US government what it can and cannot do. What is required of the Indian government will be defined in the yet-to-be completed 123 agreement.

The 123 agreement is the bilateral pact between the Indian and US governments which sets out mind-numbing detail how exactly the two countries will cooperate in nuclear materials, equipments and fuel.

New Delhi hopes the 123 document will kill off a lot of continuing criticism of the Indo-US nuclear bill passed by the US Congress late on Friday.

For example, the largely rhetorical clauses on Iran policy and fissile material capping will disappear in the 123 agreement. So will references to the reports the White House will have to present to the Congress on India's nuclear programme.

One area of substance that Indian negotiators will seek to weaken in the 123 agreement is Senator Barack Obama amendment which limits the supply of nuclear fuel reserve to India for use in civilian reactors. The amendment limits it to "reasonable reactor operating requirements" and defining "reasonable" will be a key negotiating task.

The 123 agreement will still have to remain in the broad parameters set by the US bill. Says South Asia analyst Teresita Schaffer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "It will be important not to insert anything in the agreement that appears to contradict the provisions of the final nuclear bill."

The bulk of the 123 Agreement has already been negotiated in earlier bilateral technical talks. "There was even talk of finishing it during the Nicholas Burns visit to India so that if the US Congress decided to continue to meet in the third week of December, it could be passed as well, "says nonproliferation expert Anupam Srivastava of the University of Georgia.

The text of the 123 agreement will be closely watched by the members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, says Schaffer, especially those who are reluctant to grant India even de facto nuclear weapons state status.

First Published: Dec 09, 2006 02:08 IST