Indian offer for reprocessing facility proved 123 turning point: US

By Arun Kumar, IANS

Washington : India's proposal to build a new state-of-the-art fully safeguarded facility for reprocessing US supplied nuclear fuel was a key factor in reaching the 123 agreement to implement the India-US nuclear deal.

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"It turned out to be a fundamental and positive turning point," Washington's chief interlocutor on the deal, Nicholas Burns said Friday, briefing reporters on reaching what a joint statement by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee described as a "historic milestone".

The US had been very careful to remind India that since the July 18, 2005, and March 2, 2006, joint statements of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George Bush, the US Congress had passed the Hyde Act and they had to ensure the agreement was consistent with it, he said.

The Indian proposal for building the new fully safe-guarded facility coming in May-June this year was a significant development that helped seal the deal. He and US technical expert Richard Stratford discussed all aspects of the proposal during three days of intense talks in New Delhi in the first week of June.

The US agreed to go forward with it after consultations in the Capitol Hill to ensure that it was consistent with both US laws and the regulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said Burns, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.

The Indian facility would be allowed to reprocess US fuel under a subsequent arrangement to be worked out under section 131 of the US Atomic Energy Act 1954, he said asserting that it was no different from rights offered to Japan and US allies in Europe.

It would be an Indian facility for which New Delhi will pay. India could also use it to reprocess fuel from other suppliers if they allow it, Stratford clarified when asked if it would be required to store only US fuel.

Burns said the 123 agreement also fully preserved and respected the US president's right to recall US fuel and technology in the event of a nuclear test by India, but "We hope and trust that it would not be necessary for India to test".

The continued supply assurances did not contradict US law, Burns said. The language also took care of the worst case hypothetical event. "We hope these hypotheticals would not come" and the two countries would go full speed ahead with their strategic partnership.