N-deal may prove elusive: US official

However, even if the deal is not sealed, it won't mar Bush's India visit, says the White House National Security Advisor.

india Updated: Feb 25, 2006 12:04 IST

It may not be possible to reach a landmark nuclear agreement between India and the United States by the time President George W Bush travels to New Delhi next week, a top Bush advisor said on Friday.

"It's taking time to work through. And, again, we're trying to see if we can use the visit as a forcing function. If we can, great. If not, we'll continue to work on it after the visit's over," White House National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley told reporters.

Negotiators for both governments had been trying to reach an accord that would give India access to long-denied US nuclear equipment and fuel to meet its soaring energy needs.

The deal, agreed to in principle last July, has run into trouble. The United States insists a plan to separate India's civilian and military nuclear programmes, on which the deal hinges, must be credible and transparent to prevent proliferation.

If an agreement is reached, it would be a big achievement for Bush's trip. Hadley insisted if a deal is not sealed, it would not mar Bush's visit.

Bush told a news channel that the nuclear agreement was a "tough issue" for both sides.

"I understood the politics was going to be difficult, and there's still work to be done. We've just got to continue to come up with an agreement that both of us can live with," he said.

Bush departs on Tuesday for his first visits to India and Pakistan.

He will hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi to bolster what Hadley called a US-Indian "strategic partnership".

He will also hold talks with Indian business leaders amid a surge of US job outsourcing to India and a 30 per cent increase in US exports there in the past year.

US-Pakistani cooperation

Ending his trip in Islamabad, Bush will underscore US-Pakistani cooperation in the war on terrorism with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

While Human Rights Watch called on Bush to urge Musharraf to end military rule, Bush did not sound like he was going to put much pressure on the Pakistani leader.

"I am pleased with my personal relationship with President Musharraf," Bush told Pakistani reporters this week.

"I try to put myself in his shoes. He's got a tough assignment. On the one hand he's got people trying to kill him; and on the other hand, he's taking this country ... further down the road of democracy."

While in Islamabad, Bush plans to see cricket. When Indian reporters asked him this week if he preferred to see a Bollywood movie or cricket, he chose the latter. "It's a great pastime," he said.

On the Indian-US nuclear deal, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns was returning to Washington to report on his two days of talks with Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran.

"The two sides had detailed and productive discussions. There was greater clarity on the issues under discussion. Progress has been made in the talks," a statement from the Indian Foreign Ministry said.

The deal would not only give India access to US civilian atomic technology but help lift a global ban on New Delhi receiving similar supplies from other nuclear nations.

But Washington's desire to see a large chunk of India's 22 nuclear reactors placed under international safeguards has rankled India's nuclear establishment.

Hadley said the main obstacle to an agreement was getting clarification from the Indian side "about what's in the civil side and what's on the military side -- not only in terms of what exists now, at this time, but what are going to be the ground rules going forward."

The deal has also come under strong opposition from the American non-proliferation lobby, which says cooperation with India -- which has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty -- would let it expand its military programme and also encourage other countries to do the same.

First Published: Feb 25, 2006 10:41 IST