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Cloud over nuke deal

WITH US President George Bush?s visit just round the corner, the Indo-US nuclear agreement seems to be a non-starter. Talks are deadlocked on the critical issue of separating India?s civilian and military nuclear facilities. Standing in the way are not just Indian fears of having its nuclear deterrent compromised, but also the Bush administration?s compulsions in making a one-time waiver of nuke prohibitions for India.

india Updated: Feb 12, 2006 01:05 IST

WITH US President George Bush’s visit just round the corner, the Indo-US nuclear agreement seems to be a non-starter. Talks are deadlocked on the critical issue of separating India’s civilian and military nuclear facilities. Standing in the way are not just Indian fears of having its nuclear deterrent compromised, but also the Bush administration’s compulsions in making a one-time waiver of nuke prohibitions for India.

Both governments knew the deal would lead them into “uncharted territories”. The extent of the “difficulty” became apparent once the joint working group, headed by Under Secretary Nicholas Burns and Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, began talks. The JWG is likely to meet before the Bush visit, though the US is yet to decide if this is the right time to send Burns to New Delhi again.

Sources say that the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership was “offered as a sop” to India as the main civil nuclear deal “might not work out.”

Moreover, US Ambassador David C Mulford’s recent warning of “devastating” consequences if India did not vote against Iran at the IAEA was “clear indication” of the difficulty in pushing the deal forward.

Sources said Mulford’s warning came only after Washington’s ‘go-ahead’.

Again, Atomic Energy chief Anil Kakodkar’s recent criticism of the US’s “shifting goal posts,” was, sources said, a response to criticism within the US nuclear establishment to the deal. It was also intended to ensure that India would “not go beyond or expand on the letter of the text” of the July 18 agreement.

Since the Bush visit is not being pegged on a single agenda, as part of other initiatives, Commerce Secretary S.N. Menon will visit Washington next week for talks to remove barriers to bilateral trade, particularly Indian exports.

First Published: Feb 12, 2006 01:05 IST