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Slippery nuke deal clinched

IT TOOK a push from US President George W. Bush to wrap up the first phase of crucial negotiations to implement a bilateral civil nuclear power cooperation agreement, with India and the US okaying an agreed separation plan. Announcing the "historic" decision at a joint press interaction with the US president on Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said but for Bush's "initiative", the deal would not have happened.

india Updated: Mar 03, 2006 01:36 IST

IT TOOK a push from US President George W. Bush to wrap up the first phase of crucial negotiations to implement a bilateral civil nuclear power cooperation agreement, with India and the US okaying an agreed separation plan.

Announcing the "historic" decision at a joint press interaction with the US president on Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said but for Bush's "initiative", the deal would not have happened.

Sources said the deal, by which India will complete the phased separation of 65 per cent of its civilian nuclear reactors from the military by 2014, was clinched after days of intense negotiations among top officials, and an hour of talks between Singh and Bush. The US administration will now approach the US Congress to suitably amend American legislation for an India-specific waiver, and go to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. India will go to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to negotiate India-specific safeguards for its civilian nuclear reactors.

Going by the prime minister's address to Parliament earlier this week, India has, broadly, agreed to place 14 of its reactors on the civilian list, under IAEA safeguards.

But, by Thursday's agreement, the decision to classify any future reactors as civilian or otherwise will be "entirely India's", sources said. There is no scope for debate on the issue.

The agreed separation plan gives India "de facto" nuclear weapons power status, by which it can negotiate safeguards specific to its possession of a nuclear weapons programme. Though not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, safeguards governing Indian civilian nuclear reactors will perforce have to take into account the fact that India has a strategic weapons programme. A single bland paragraph in the joint statement issued after the talks welcomed the "successful completion" of discussions on India's separation plan and looked forward to "full implementation of the commitments in the July 18, 2005 Joint Statement on nuclear cooperation" reached between Bush and Singh in Washington.

Neither the intense bargaining (taking the concerns of the Indian atomic energy establishment and security concerns on board) nor any details of the agreement (to be presented by the PM to Parliament soon) was reflected in the statement.

After an hour-long one-to-one discussion, followed by equally long delegation-level talks, Bush appreciated Singh's "courage" in completing the deal and said it would not be easy for the PM to convince the Parliament or for himself to convince the Congress. "But the deal is necessary," he said.

He will impress upon the US Congress that India's rising energy requirements have to be met and that nuclear energy for India's rapidly growing economy is essential to ease the pressure on fossil fuels.

First Published: Mar 03, 2006 01:36 IST