Washington: Indian foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon is to hold talks on 1May aimed at kickstarting a landmark nuclear cooperation deal with the US that has languished for almost two years.
The civilian nuclear agreement “is one of the issues, which will be discussed on 1 May” in talks with US under secretary of state for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, embassy press attache Rahul Chhabra said.
Menon, who arrived in Washington on 29 April, launched two days of talks here on 30 April, meeting first with US under secretary of state for global affairs and democracy Paula Dobriansky.
The talks are described as “productive” and covering a range of issues from democratic values to environmental conservation, the State Department said.
But all eyes are on soon-to-be-held discussions, following US admissions earlier this month that Washington is becoming frustrated with the pace of the talks.
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on 30 April the US would like to rapidly finalize the landmark civilian nuclear deal struck in July 2005.
“We will get this deal done,” McCormack said. “I think the meetings coming up over the next couple of weeks will give us a good indication of how quickly a deal can get done.”
He added the US is interested in “what sort of ideas the Indian government comes to the table with,” on the issue.
The talks will focus on the accord under which India won access to US nuclear fuel and technology for civilian use without requiring New Delhi to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty as required by US law.
But differences persist, chiefly over a clause that says the US would withdraw civil nuclear fuel supplies and equipment if India breaches its unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing.
India has a “very clear approach” on the deal, Menon said in a report tabled in the Indian parliament. He was seeking to dispel fears from Indian atomic scientists and critics who say the agreement will put restrictions on the country’s nuclear weapons program.
“Whatever we do with the US will not affect our nuclear strategic program,” Menon assured. The nuclear energy deal is the centerpiece of India’s new relationship with Washington after decades of Cold War tensions and is part of New Delhi’s efforts to expand energy sources to sustain its booming economy.
Burns predicted on 29 April that in the coming years New Delhi would become a main US strategic partner, hailing ties as “the strongest relationship the two countries have enjoyed since India’s independence in 1947.”
“The pace of progress between Washington and Delhi has been so rapid, and the potential benefits to American interests so substantial, that I believe within a generation Americans may view India as one of our two or three most important strategic partners,” Burns wrote in an opinion piece in Washington Post.
Burns also noted that Washington considers the nuclear deal, which the US Congress approved overwhelmingly in December, as the centerpiece of the new warmer relations.
“When fully implemented in 2008, this initiative will permit American and international companies to begin peaceful civilian nuclear cooperation with India for the first time in more than a generation.”
But he added that the two countries can and should go even further in their bilateral cooperation, highlighting two areas--counterterrorism and the military.
Indian experts have meanwhile warned that India must act fast on the nuclear deal, saying that with the US presidential elections looming next year the accord could soon drop off the radar screen in Washington.
“There is genuine concern about the delay. India is not the center of the universe for them,” said G. Balachandran, visiting Fellow at the Indian security think-tank Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
One likely outcome is a compromise on the wording of the agreement. “The differences are over the consequences of nuclear testing. The Americans can’t take away the right to test. It’s a matter of reaching a compromise over the wording of the deal, not a compromise of interests,” he said.