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Nuclear talks: India may not agree on test ban

As Saran and Burns head to London for the last push, India is unlikely to give in much, writes Nilova Roy Chaudhury.

india Updated: May 23, 2006 01:47 IST

As Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns head to London on Wednesday for the 'last push' to the Indo-US civil nuclear deal’s passage through the US Congress, senior Indian officials said Delhi was "unlikely" to acquiesce on the test ban issue.

There have been calls from the US establishment and senior French officials for India to commit itself to "peaceful, non-explosive" uses for the nuclear assistance it will receive, something New Delhi will not agree to in bilateral agreements either with the US or with France, with whom it signed a framework agreement during President Jacques Chirac's visit.

"India will do what it committed itself to in the July 18 statement," a senior Indian official said.

There is a voluntary moratorium on testing and a commitment to enter into a "universal, non-discriminatory" fissile materials cut-off treaty, and those remain, the official said, stressing the voluntary nature of the offer.

Top French officials said India needs to "be more generous" and do more on its plan separating its civilian and strategic nuclear reactors if it seeks smooth passage of the waiver permitting nuclear commerce with countries of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), set to meet at their plenary session in Rio de Janeiro on May 29.

Declining to specify whether the problem related to the fast breeder reactors being out of the civilian process or whether they sought more guarantees on a moratorium on fissile materials, an official privy to the talks said many of the NSG countries were "dissatisfied with the Indian separation plan", and getting the deal through would be easier with "a more generous Indian approach".

"It is very delicately balanced, and we cannot make a mistake," the official said, for India to gain access to civilian nuclear technology, but "we can only pull it off if India sticks strictly to its separation plan."

"It is feasible, but requires fine technological and diplomatic engineering" before it can be cleared by the NSG, where the most "positive" supporters of India are the United States and France, which initiated the deal, the official said.

While the French administration has largely gone into election mode, stalling major decisions a year ahead of presidential polls, Chirac intends keeping his interest in pushing India's case through the appointment of his adviser and spokesman of eight years, foreign service official Jerome Bonnafont, as the next Ambassador to New Delhi.

First Published: May 23, 2006 01:47 IST