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India, US hold talks on 123 pact


Washington : Amid uncertainties about the fate of the civil nuclear deal, India and the US Tuesday held a crucial round of talks and tried to sort out differences over the 123 agreement that will lead to resumption of nuclear commerce between the two countries.

Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon held talks with US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, Washington’s chief interlocutor on the nuclear deal, on the text of the 123 agreement.

The two top officials reviewed the two rounds of talks held earlier and tried to address concerns of both countries on issues like nuclear testing and access to reprocessing technology.

Menon underlined India’s record in nuclear non-proliferation and that New Delhi reserves the sovereign right to conduct a nuclear test to protect the autonomy of its strategic programme.

He also underlined that India was not willing to go beyond a voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing and the production of fissile material, sources said.

The talks are aimed to get the US to agree to a position whereby the 123 pact, named after Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act, will not include a ban on nuclear testing – something which is not acceptable to Washington.

Menon is likely to meet US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Wednesday and discuss the issues relating to the nuclear deal.

Washington has insisted on inserting a clause in the 123 pact that envisages termination of all civilian nuclear cooperation between New Delhi and Washington should the former conduct a nuclear test.

The US, on its part, is insisting on a right-of-return clause for nuclear equipment and fuel sold under the agreement. This is not acceptable to India as it runs counter to the lifetime fuel supply assurances given by the US.

This is the third round of formal negotiations between India and the US over the 123 pact which has to be approved by both houses of the US Congress by an up-and-down vote before the US opens doors of nuclear commerce to India.

The 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group will also have to approve the deal and amend its guidelines before India resumes global civil nuclear cooperation.