Nuclear deal still faces heartburns
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Nuclear deal still faces heartburns

Amid Burns-Saran talks, doubts persist if landmark Indo-US pact would be finalised before March 1.

india Updated: Feb 24, 2006 11:21 IST

A senior US diplomat expressed doubt that a landmark US-India nuclear pact would be finalised before President George W Bush visits India next week, as talks on the deal resumed in New Delhi.

The deal is seen as a cornerstone of the emerging alliance between India and the United States, and officials on both sides have said they wanted to hammer out all its details before Bush's trip.

But US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns on Thursday told reporters: "We simply don't know if we'll have an agreement ready for President Bush's visit. We're trying our best."

Burns comments came after a morning meeting with his Indian counterpart, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran.

The two planned to keep trying to thrash out contentious details of the nuclear agreement in an afternoon meeting on Thursday.

"There is no question both of us want to complete these negotiations," he said. "But there are still some remaining differences between us and those differences need to be worked out."

The deal must be approved by the US Congress, and Bush even suggested on Wednesday more time was needed before it could be presented to lawmakers, many of whom have expressed doubts about the pact.

"This is not an easy decision for India, nor is it an easy decision for the United States," he said in a speech at the Asia Society in Washington. "Implementing this agreement will take patience from both our countries."

The US-India nuclear deal marks a major policy shift for the United States, which imposed sanctions on India in 1998 after it conducted nuclear tests.

The restrictions have since been lifted. Apart from being hailed as a symbol the growing ties between India and the United States, the deal is also considered to be part of a broader effort by Washington and New Delhi to balance China's growing economic and political influence in Asia.

Under the deal, Washington is to share civilian nuclear technology and supply nuclear fuel to India in return for New Delhi separating its tightly entwined civilian and military nuclear programmes and allowing international inspections of its civilian atomic facilities.

The separation is necessary because the United States has only agreed to recognise India as having a civilian nuclear programme -- not as a legitimate nuclear weapons state.

But some members of the US Congress have expressed reservations about ratifying the deal, arguing that it could undermine the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which India has not signed.

First Published: Feb 23, 2006 11:23 IST