India, America fine tune 123

Updated on May 18, 2007 03:49 AM IST
Burns speaks to Menon to work on details of the language of the deal, reports Nilova Roy Chaudhury.
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Hindustan Times | ByNilova Roy Chaudhury, New Delhi

As the 123 Agreement detailing the procedural and legal guidelines for civil nuclear collaboration between India and the United States approaches closure, officials in New Delhi and Washington are working to fine tune the language of the agreement.

US Under Secretary of State Nick Burns spoke to Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon on Wednesday to work on details of the language of the deal, which official sources said was "doable".

While no dates have been set for Burns' visit to India, official and diplomatic sources said it could be any time soon, but he would arrive only when the deal was finalised. Shortly after Menon's visit to Washington at the beginning of May, the State Department had said Burns would come to India in the second half of May to finalise the deal. The attempt would be to finalise the language of the agreement before the G-8 summit, when President George Bush will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Singh will travel to Heiligendamm in Germany for the outreach session of the summit between June 6 and 8.

Sources in the government said the limiting factor for India, the "red lines" were the Prime Minister's assurances on full civil nuclear collaboration to Parliament, while for the Americans, it was what could pass muster in the Congress.

Nothing that impacts or "gets back to our strategic programme would be acceptable," a government source said. "So the best way is to isolate this (civil, power) cycle," the source said, explaining that this would make India the only country outside the P-5 to retain its weapons programme and get a full civilian nuclear programme.

Japan, Switzerland and Germany all had to forego their strategic weapons programme before they were offered similar deals, the source said.

India was looking to the United States to push for the final waiver with the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group once the 123 Agreement is finalised. Simultaneously, New Delhi will push for an India-specific safeguards agreement for its civilian facilities.

Officials and members of the Department of Atomic Energy have held three rounds of "exploratory meetings" with the International Atomic Energy Agency on the "main concepts that would be embedded in an India-specific safeguards agreement," Parliament was told on Thursday.

However, the final lap of negotiations on the deal will have to wait for the Indian Supreme Court's verdict on what to do with a public interest litigation that has been filed against the Indo-US civil nuclear deal. The petition on whether to admit the PIL is due to be heard on Friday.

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