Burns will only come to India for final 123 pact

New Delhi, May 17 (IANS) India and the US are doing some spirited last-minute negotiations to reach a final 123 bilateral nuclear agreement before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George Bush meet on the sidelines of the G-8 summit in Germany next month.

“US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns is expected to come here later this month, but he will come to Delhi only to seal the final pact,” reliable sources told IANS.

Support TwoCircles

Burns’ visit, that was initially expected next week, may be postponed to later this month, but it is likely to take place before the G-8 summit scheduled for June 6-8, the sources said.

“The idea is to have 123 agreement in place when Manmohan Singh and Bush meet in German resort town of Heiligendamm,” the sources added.

Manmohan Singh is likely to travel to Washington in September which is likely to see the signing of the 123 pact that will open the door of global nuclear commerce for India after three decades.

“It will all depend on whether the two sides are able to come to an agreement on critical issues relating to India’s insistence on its right to nuclear testing and access to reprocessing technologies,” the source said.

“He is not coming here for negotiations. He is coming here only for a final agreement on the text of the 123 agreement,” he said.

On May 1, after talks between Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and Burns in Washington, both sides claimed extensive progress in their negotiations over the 123 agreement, named after section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act, that will govern civil nuclear cooperation between them.

Subsequently, the state department announced that Burns, Washington’s chief negotiator on the nuclear deal, would “visit India in the second half of May for a final agreement.”

Burns’ likely postponement of his visit to the Indian capital is, however, seen by some as a sign of floundering negotiations in the face of mounting pressure from the influential nuclear non-proliferation lobby in Washington who wants all nuclear cooperation suspended in the event of India conducting a nuclear test.

In a letter to members of Congress, a group of non-proliferation advocates asked them to reject the deal if the deal does not explicitly meet all requirements outlined in the US law for civil nuclear cooperation.

The letter has been signed by known critics of the deal, including Hal Bengelsdorf, former director for the office for Non-proliferation Policy at the Energy Department, ambassador George Bunn, a negotiator of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Joseph Cirincione at the Centre for American Progress, ambassador Ralph Earle II, former director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

However, New Delhi is optimistic that the deal is doable but it will not accept any bar on testing and access to reprocessing technologies in such a pact, as communicated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to parliament last year.