NEW DELHI: India and the United States are close to sewing up a landmark but controversial nuclear energy deal although some hard work needs to be done to bridge major differences, a top US official said on 31 May.
The comments by US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns came ahead of his talks with Indian officials to push a pact that has become symbolic of a new warmth in ties between the countries, on opposite sides during the Cold War.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in that agreement,” Burns told reporters before his meeting with Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon. ”We are nearly there although ... some work has to be done, some hard work has to be done.”
The deal aims to overturn three decades of US sanctions on sales of nuclear reactors and fuel to India to help it meet its soaring energy needs, even though New Delhi has tested nuclear weapons and has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
It was first agreed in principle in 2005 and approved by the US Congress last December, but the two sides have since struggled to close a bilateral pact that governs nuclear trade, due to what India says are new terns included by US lawmakers.
New Delhi says it cannot accept a US condition to end nuclear cooperation if it conducts another nuclear test, and also wants rights to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, among other issues.
Several rounds of talks have been held this year but the two sides have failed to reach a compromise, raising fears the deal could be unravelling.
Besides sealing a strategic relationship with a country Washington sees as a rising Asian power, the deal would end India’s global nuclear isolation as it is expected to let other countries sell nuclear fuel and equipment to New Delhi as well.
“I think it represents the most ambitious proposal that we put forward in 30 years,” Burns said. “It allows us to correct the major problem in Indian relations. It delivers India-US relations, it delivers India from its nuclear isolation.”
“So there’s lots of reasons to feel optimistic about this agreement once we’ve had it nailed down. And we hope to make some progress over the next day or two in that regard.”
The deal has been hit by controversy from the start.
A strong non-proliferation lobby in the United States and nuclear experts and opposition political groups in India have said their governments gave away too much to push the deal.
Washington should amend the law passed by Congress in December instead of asking New Delhi to make more compromises to conclude the agreement, M.R. Srinivasan, a former chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission, wrote in The Hindu daily on Thursday.
“The fact is, India has already made all the compromises it could make upfront and cannot make any more at this stage,” the scientist wrote.