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India, US create right weather to clinch N-deal

PM Manmohan Singh and US President George Bush will be holding a summit meeting this afternoon. Pics: Bush in India

india Updated: Mar 03, 2006 18:44 IST

India and United States have "almost finalised" the nuclear deal as US President George W Bush gets ready to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday.

Shortly after Bush arrived in New Delhi, top officials of both countries, in an effort to wrap up the civilian nuclear pact, held night-long negotiations to iron out the remaining differences ahead of the summit meeting.

According to sources, though there were some key differences, both sides expect to clinch the deal on Thursday.

America has accepted many of India's proposal on the separation plan and efforts are on to finalise the broad contours of the deal, sources said.

India, according to sources, have categorically stated that America's demand for unconditional perpetuity of inspection was not acceptable.

Meanwhile, Bush said he was looking foward to fostering "a very important relationship" with India but parried questions on a possible deal.

"I am looking forward to working with President and the Prime Minister to foster a very important relationship," Bush said, after the ceremonial reception at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

He was accorded a grand ceremonial welcome in the forecourt of the Presidential Palace on Thursday morning marking the formal start of his visit.

Asked how confident he was about clinching a nuclear deal, he merely said "we have a press conference later on."

Impressed by the red carpet welcome and the ceremonial guard of honour by the armed forces which he had inspected moments earlier, Bush said "it is an honour to be here. I have never been to India before. I have been looking forward to this trip for a long time.

"I must say that I have been received in many capitals of the world. I have never seen a reception as well organised and as grand as the reception we just received. Coming up to this majestic building was breathtaking and the horses that led us in added great elegance to the welcoming ceremony," he said thanking President Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh profusely for the visit and the grand reception.

He had a word of praise for the weather saying "thanks for arranging a beautiful weather".

Despite six months of negotiations leading up to Bush's Indian visit, officials have been unable to tie down the deal under which the United States would extend nuclear technology to India if it agrees to separate its military and civilian atomic facilities.

Bush arrived in India on Wednesday after beginning his maiden visit to South Asia with a brief stopover in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of mainly Muslim protesters rallied against Bush's trip in the Indian capital.

His visit is the culmination of several years of steadily improving relations between the two countries, buoyed by rapidly increasing bilateral trade.

However India is reluctant to place some of its civilian reactors, such as the plutonium-based fast breeder system, under international scrutiny amid fears it could interfere with India's nuclear weapons programme.

Some US experts feel the deal rewards India for testing nuclear weapons in May 1998 and sets a bad example for countries such as Iran and North Korea which have signed the nuclear 1972 Non-Proliferation Treaty, unlike New Delhi.

Bush and his aides have played down expectations for a clear agreement, saying the nuclear deal was only one component of the wide strategic relationship.

Instead, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley highlighted a US initiative that could be unveiled Thursday in which Washington would make a 100 million dollar commitment to help launch India's second "green revolution."

"It's a difficult issue for the Indian government; it's a difficult issue for the American government. And so we'll continue to dialogue and work, and hopefully we can reach an agreement," Bush said of the nuclear deal before he flew into New Delhi.

"If not, we'll continue to work on it until we do," he said.

The deal commits Washington to get approval from the US Congress and countries of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to lift restrictions on sharing nuclear technology with India following its first nuclear tests in 1974.

Singh, facing pressure from scientists and politicians not to bend to US demands, remained optimistic.

"It would be "a great contribution of President Bush to ending India's isolation from the world nuclear order," he said.

An Indian official said the cabinet committee on political affairs had met on Wednesday evening and had "given its approval to finalise the nuclear deal with the president."

The nuclear deal aside, Bush is scheduled to meet business leaders to improve investment and trade ties and on Friday visit the southern city of Hyderabad, known for its mix of cutting-edge industries and agricultural and pharmaceutical research, during his three-day trip.

US-India economic ties are growing rapidly.

Last year, US exports to India jumped by more than 30 percent compared with 20 percent growth in Indian exports to the United States.

Bilateral merchandise trade amounted to nearly 27 billion dollars, seen by officials as way below the potential of the two large economies.

The civilian nuclear deal itself is expected to open up potential deals worth 20 billion dollars.

Bush was also due to give his main address in the Indian capital on Friday night and leave Saturday morning for Islamabad.

New Delhi has placed its entire police force of 71,000 officers on high alert and sealed off the hotel where Bush will stay during the trip, the second to India by a US president in six years.

First Published: Mar 02, 2006 00:23 IST