Burns arrives Thursday for talks on nuclear deal


New Delhi : Indicating that differences on the India-US civilian nuclear deal are being ironed out, key US interlocutor Nicolas Burns is arriving here Thursday for talks on the 123 agreement that is expected to take their path-breaking pact forward.

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During the three-day visit, Burns, the under secretary for political affairs, "will review bilateral relations and developments of mutual interest" with Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, a statement issued here Wednesday by the external affairs ministry said.

"The visit will also be the occasion for further discussions on the proposed bilateral civil nuclear co-operation agreement," the statement added.

The US embassy here made a similar announcement.

"There is considerable work to be done on what is a very technical and detailed agreement. We want to finish as soon as we can and both sides are positive we can do this," US Ambassador David Mulford said in a statement.

The announcement sets at rest speculation about Burns' visit that had arisen after a remark Tuesday by State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey in response to a question about the trip

"Well, Nick, as far as I know, was on the plane with the Secretary (of State Condoleeza Rice) headed to Berlin for G-8 meetings.

"And as far as I know, while he's spoken about his willingness to go on to India if it's appropriate to continue those discussions on India's nuclear deal, I don't believe that he's scheduled a trip there as of yet," he said.

Asked if Burns would return home after the Berlin trip, Casey said: "At this point, I certainly know if there is a reason for him to go later this week or next week, then he will certainly do so.

"I know originally, they were hoping to have him go out somewhere in the next couple of weeks, but there's no confirmed travel plans at this point," he said.

Wednesday's simultaneous announcements from New Delhi and Washington have now cleared the air.

Burns, who was earlier expected to visit India in mid-May after Foreign Secretary Menon's visit to Washington raised hopes that the deal may be closed by month end, indefinitely put it off as the 123 agreement was still a "work in progress".

Speculation about the trip was revived after Indian and US technical experts held two-day talks on the nuclear deal in London May 21-22 during which India clarified its concepts on key issues like nuclear testing and demand for access to reprocessing technologies.

Burns' visit indicates that the two sides are attempting to clinch the 123 agreement before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George W. Bush meet on the sidelines of the G-8 summit in Germany early next month.