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N-deal done, wait for Bush

Indian and American officials reported "progress" in the talks of the joint working group on Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation, indicating that they had arrived at an understanding that would be announced when US President George Bush arrives next week. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh confirmed that the talks had been "fruitful".

india Updated: Feb 25, 2006 18:57 IST

Indian and American officials reported "progress" in the talks of the joint working group on Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation, indicating that they had arrived at an understanding that would be announced when US President George Bush arrives next week. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh confirmed that the talks had been "fruitful".

An announcement, in the form of a joint declaration, is likely to be made after the US president meets the prime minister for formal talks at Hyderabad House on March 2.

A core group, comprising National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan, DAE Chairman Anil Kakodkar, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, and India's ambassador to the US, Ronen Sen, thrashed out details of the deal with US undersecretary Nicholas Burns and other senior American officials.

In a three-line pointer, External Affairs Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said, "progress has been made" in Friday's "detailed and productive discussions", yielding "greater clarity on the issues under discussion". Officials were tight-lipped after the talks ended, but sources indicated agreement on a "phased separation plan".

Differences between the two sides have centred on the separation of India's 22 reactors into civilian and military facilities, of which the former will be placed under international safeguards.

According to sources, the fast breeder reactor programme, that scientists consider critical to India's strategic research programme, will not be placed on the civilian list until the agreement is revisited. Neither will the facilities at Kalpakkam and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). It is likely that around 14 of the 22 reactors will be placed on the civilian list.

India does not have a dedicated military nuclear programme, with all the reactors being linked, so separation from the grid will be conducted in a gradual and phased manner. Also, as the PM publicly asserted, all future reactors, built with international assistance, will be on a civilian list, subject to safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"There is a goodwill of both governments, and a commitment by President Bush to see this (July 18 deal) through towards a conclusion," Burns said after meeting Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma earlier today. "We hope so," he said when asked if the deal could be worked out before going in for talks with senior Indian officials.

First Published: Feb 25, 2006 18:57 IST