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Burns to push N-deal, US president happy!

The US Undersecretary of State for political affairs plans to work towards the accord despite his plans to resign.

world Updated: Jan 19, 2008 23:18 IST
Arun Kumar

US President George W Bush "is pleased" that Nicholas Burns, Washington's key negotiator on the India-US nuclear deal agreement will continue to work towards pushing the landmark accord "to conclusion if possible" even after he quits the state department in March.

Bush is pleased that "Burns will continue to serve in an advisory capacity as the United States continues to make progress on the historic civilian nuclear agreement with India," the White House stated on Friday shortly after the diplomat's surprise resignation due to "family concerns".

Bush has valued Burns' "sound advice and his strong commitment to advancing America's interests across the globe," the statement added, noting that he has been at the forefront on key foreign policy issues for the present administration.

Bush also announced his intention to nominate US Ambassador to Russia William Burns to replace Burns as under secretary of state for political affairs. He was previously assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs. The two men are not related.

Earlier announcing Burns' resignation, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she had asked him to "spend some time continuing to work on the India file, particularly because we would like to push the US civil nuclear agreement to conclusion if possible, and Nick has agreed to continue that work".

Burns, 51, too on his part promised, "to finish this very promising strategic opening with India which will do so much good for our country and our global foreign policy."

Later, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said no timeline had been set for Burns' new role.

"I would expect it to continue as long as it is in the interest of the secretary to have Nick doing that. And Nick is able to do it with whatever comes next in his professional life," he said.

The implementing of 123 agreement that Burns negotiated with Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon last July has to be approved by the US Congress before the landmark deal takes effect.

New Delhi also has to wrap up a safeguards pact with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before approaching the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for a change in its guidelines to permit global civil nuclear commerce with India.

Asked if Burns would be designated 'a special envoy', McCormack said he didn't "know that we've settled on a title yet, but he would remain focused on that particular issue. I think he's uniquely positioned given his role in negotiating it".

"Oh, I'm sure. You know, Nick is one of these guys that manages to find 27 hours in the day, you know," he said when asked if Burns is committed to putting in an adequate amount of time on the deal.

Asked to spell out the basis on which Burns would be staying on, McCormack said: "There are special provisions within the law that allow people for discrete periods or limited periods of time, not necessarily measured by the calendar year but by the number of days you spend doing something, that allow people who are not part of the government to work on specific functions."