‘Pretty tough’ talks ahead on India nuclear deal: US

By Arun Kumar


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Washington : The US says it would like the civil nuclear deal with India done quickly, but admits "some pretty tough negotiations" are underway to get the terms right.

"I think that if we can get the terms of the nuclear deal right, that it will move through. But these are some pretty tough negotiations," State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack told reporters here Tuesday.

The two sides "made some progress" during US key negotiator Nicholas Burns' visit to New Delhi last week "and we would like to get this deal done as quickly as we possibly can", he said.

When asked to specify what progress Burns made, McCormack merely said, "I think they aired some of their differences over a couple of the issues."

"There are going to be follow-up conversations," he said, referring to a possible meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush on the margins of the G-8 summit in Germany and a visit by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. "And …so we'd like to see it get done."

After his talks with Burns, who is undersecretary of state for political affairs, Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon had claimed that "considerable progress" had been made in narrowing differences on key issues and expressed optimism that they would make a deal.

But neither side has specified the sticky points and or how they propose to resolve them beyond saying that "more work remains to be done" to finalise the implementing 123 agreement. Nor has a timeframe been set, though at one stage both were said to be keen on sewing it up ahead of the Singh-Bush meeting.

The major sticky points in the way of an agreement involve India's right to continue testing nuclear weapons, the right to reprocess spent fuel and the right to receive uninterrupted nuclear fuel. India's relations with Iran is yet another hurdle.

However, according to Menon, the Bush administration had informed India that there was nothing in the Hyde Act on the civilian nuclear deal that prevented it from honouring the commitments made in Singh-Bush joint statements of July 2005 and March 2006.