Washington: The United States and India began a fresh round of talks on 17 July to finalize a landmark civilian nuclear accord, with Washington saying they are prepared to grapple with tough outstanding issues.
The two sides are attempting to devise a final pact that would give India access to previously forbidden atomic technology to generate power for its booming economy after Washington agreed to reverse three decades of sanctions on nuclear trade with India.
“It’s really to try to make a push to get this agreement over the finish line,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
“There are a couple tough issues that we have left to resolve. We believe that we can get a deal, we can get an agreement,” he said as senior Indian officials began two-day talks with US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns.
Under the deal, India is to separate nuclear facilities for civilian and military use and set up a regime of international inspections in return for technology and nuclear fuel supplies.
Despite several rounds of talks, India has stood fast against accepting any curbs on its reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.
India also wants assurances that Washington will continue to supply fuel for its atomic plants in the event New Delhi conducts further nuclear weapons tests.
Asked how Washington and New Delhi would overcome the two issues, McCormack said: “We’ll see if we’re able to bridge the differences.
“There is a willingness on our part to work in a constructive manner to get a deal done and I suspect that you would hear the same thing from our Indian partners,” he said.
The talks between Burns and the high-level Indian delegation, which includes India’s National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan, Department of Atomic Energy Chairman Anil Kakodkar, and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, were to spill over into a US-hosted dinner on 17 July, officials said.
The Indian side also meets with US National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley at the White House on 18 July, the second anniversary of a 2005 deal between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George Bush to forge the historic civilian nuclear partnership.
Indian embassy spokesman Rahul Chhabra had said earlier that New Delhi looked forward to finalizing the nuclear agreement as “early as possible.”
Both Singh and Bush discussed the nuclear issue over the telephone last week.
On the margins of a Group of Eight summit in Germany last month, Indian officials reportedly proposed to set up a special unit to reprocess spent atomic fuel under international safeguards in a bid to break the impasse.
Narayanan and Menon held talks with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon on Monday and also met experts at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a US think tank that helped Washington craft the nuclear deal.
Last year, the US Congress approved the nuclear deal in principle and Bush signed into law a bill allowing Washington to transfer nuclear fuel and technology to India.
It was subject to both sides crafting a comprehensive bilateral accord or “123 agreement” capturing all aspects of the deal that has to be passed again by Congress.
India also needs to sign an additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and get the approval of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group.