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India-US nuke talk hits roadblock

New Delhi has conveyed to Washington that it is not ready to list a programme as a civil nuclear facility.

india Updated: Feb 11, 2006 19:38 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

In a clear sign of the difficulties dogging the implementation of the India-US nuclear energy deal, New Delhi has conveyed to Washington it is not ready to list its fast breeder reactor programme as a civil nuclear facility.

Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Anil Kakodkar has said such an exercise "will not be in our strategic interest" both for long-term energy security and for maintaining nuclear weapon capabilities.

The US, however, has made it clear that implementation of the nuclear deal will depend on New Delhi presenting a credible and transparent plan to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities that must pass muster in the US Congress.

Washington has also indicated that New Delhi's fast breeder reactor programme, which will be powered by India's abundant thorium reserves, should be listed as part of the civilian facilities, and thereby open to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

India's defence-scientific establishment, however, is strongly opposed to this, saying such a move could impinge on the country's ability to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent.

Kakodkar told The Indian Express in an interview: "Both from the point of view of maintaining long-term energy security and for maintaining the minimum credible deterrent (as defined by the nuclear doctrine), the fast breeder programme just cannot be put on the civilian list.

"This would amount to getting shackled and India certainly cannot compromise one for the other," he said.

"So it is important in the long run that our strategy should be such that the integrity and autonomy of our being able to develop the three-stage nuclear power programme be maintained, we cannot compromise that."

Reacting to Washington's maximalist position that wants New Delhi to place the maximum number of nuclear facilities in the civilian list, Kakodkar said this amounted to "changing the goalpost" - a sore point with India's nuclear establishment that views with suspicion increasing demands from the US under the nuclear deal.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had last week asserted that nothing would be done that would impact on New Delhi's strategic programme.

"I should make it quite clear that there is no question of bending. We have clear-cut objectives. We have to have a strategic programme, a critical minimum (nuclear) deterrent. There is no question about that," he said.

Making a strong case for dismantling technology denial regimes, Manmohan Singh expressed hope the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) will cease its opposition to civil nuclear cooperation with India.

Going by the difficulties that lie on the path of nuclear negotiations, the civil nuclear cooperation agreement might not be in place by the time US President George Bush comes to India in March.

First Published: Feb 11, 2006 19:38 IST