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Indo-US pact likely by year end

Officials are upbeat after the 'technical level' talks on the 123 Agreement, reports Nilova Roy Chaudhury.
None | By Nilova Roy Chaudhury, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 27, 2007 01:19 PM IST

Officials are upbeat after day 1 of the first round of official 'technical level' talks on the 123 Agreement, and are even hopeful the agreement can be firmed up by the end of the year.

"We are aware that the sooner it is done, the better," an official said. Most of the differences between the two drafts (and official positions) on issues like assured supplies of nuclear fuel to power its civil nuclear plants and India's opposition to a legal binding commitment against testing can be worked out by officials who are meeting to "narrow the differences between the two positions."

But the tricky issue of allowing India the right to reprocess spent US–supplied fuel would probably require a political push at the highest levels.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had laid down the 'little red (danger) lines' when he made a commitment to Parliament last August that India had to have the right to either reprocess or return the spent fuel. So the issue is non-negotiable and, according to a senior official, could be worked out when Singh meets US President George Bush in June at the G-8 summit in Germany.

Senior officials from the foreign and atomic energy departments of both countries began talks on Monday on the 123 agreement to operationalise the civil nuclear deal. The agreement will outline the contours within which the two countries can begin civil nuclear commerce.The (Henry J) Hyde Act passed by the US Congress last December provided the Bush administration with the necessary waivers to permit such dealings with India, after a three decade gap.

The talks, officials said, were "positive" and went well enough to raise hopes of being able to iron out serious differences and sign on the dotted line by the year-end.

According to a senior official, India would not deviate from the July 18, 2005 Joint Statement and March 2, 2006 Separation Plan.

Indian concerns about the Hyde Act relate to the right to reprocessing of spent fuel, end-use monitoring, fuel assurances, future nuclear testing and fissile material control.

Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon had handed over the Indian draft text of the agreement when he visited Washington in January, incorporating the clauses New Delhi wants included.

A multi-agency American delegation, headed by Richard Stratford, the State Department's Director of Nuclear Energy Safety and Security, arrived over the weekend for the talks which will continue at least another day.

Former key negotiator in the delegation and now India's High Commissioner to Singapore, S Jaishankar, has joined the Indian delegation comprising officials from the Ministry of External Affairs and Department of Atomic Energy.

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