Officials extend stay in US for N-deal talks

The team of officials led by Shiv Shankar Menon will have some intensive talks on Indo-US civil nuclear deal.
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Updated on Jul 20, 2007 07:18 PM IST
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PTI | BySridhar Krishnaswami, Washington

In an indication that the talks on Indo-US civil nuclear deal has entered a decisive stage, the high-level Indian negotiating team has extended its stay and is expected to continue with its the discussions on Friday.

Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and his team were due to depart late on Thursday night while the leader of the delegation, National Security Adviser MK Narayanan was scheduled to leave on Friday morning. Both these departures have now been postponed.

Indian team led by foreign secretary will be back at the US State Department for negotiations early on Friday and expect to be involved in some pretty intensive discussions, sources said.

The state department team will be led by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns who will be assisted by his team of officials.

Earlier, Burns said that the negotiating teams just needed to go "the extra couple of feet" and that the two sides had overcome many of the outstanding issue.

"We have overcome many of the outstanding issues. We just need to go the extra couple of feet," Burns told State Department reporters.

"We are in an extra innings," Burns said referring to a baseball term. "We haven't given up and I'm very hopeful we might have an agreement."

Even if the text of an accord arrived in Washington it would have to be signed off by the leaders of India and the US, Burns told reporters at a Ceremonial Exchange of Diplomatic Notes signifying the extension of the memorandum of understanding that protects the rich archaeological and ethnological heritage of Cyprus.

Asked if an agreement could be done by the end of the day (Thursday) Burns replied, "we will see. We have negotiated in a very good, constructive spirit."

Burns was at the state department talking with the foreign secretary and his team late on Thursday evening.

The high-level Indian delegation led by the National Security Adviser MK Narayanan had a 30-minute meeting with the US Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday afternoon.

Narayanan was accompanied at this meeting by Ambassador of India Ronen Sen, Foreign Secretary Menon, the Deputy Chief of the Indian Mission in Washington Raminder Singh Jassal and the Joint Secretary of the Americas in the Ministry of External Affairs Gaitri Kumar.

Informed sources told PTI that the Narayanan-Cheney meeting focussed on the larger and broader aspects of Indo-US relations with the civilian nuclear deal coming in only for a fleeting mention.

The two sides are said to have exchanged views on such areas of bilateral cooperation like counter-terrorism and agriculture. Cheney for his part is said to have talked about American policies.

The high-level Indian delegation, led by Narayanan, has been in this town for four days now, devoting three full days for intensive and extensive dialogue with its US counterparts on ways to bridge the differences between the two sides on the highly sensitive and critical issues relating to the 123 Agreement such as Reprocessing and the Right of Return.

The Bush administration which has been touting this civilian nuclear agreement with India as one of its major foreign policy accomplishments is acutely aware of the Congressional timelines involved given that the full package of the deal -- the 123 Agreement, the consensus of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group and the India-IAEA accord on safeguards -- will have to be approved by an "Up-Down" vote in Congress.

This civilian nuclear agreement in its entirety will ideally have to be on Capitol Hill by the end of January 2008 given the fact that Congress will be breaking away in September 2008 for elections (Presidential and Congressional) and that 90 Congressional days -- not Calendar days -- will have to elapse between submission and the final "Up-Down" vote.

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