Differences over nuclear deal not insurmountable: US

By Arun Kumar


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Washington : As Nicholas Burns, its key negotiator on the civil nuclear deal with India, headed for New Delhi, the US said some differences still remain over the implementing 123 agreement, but these are not insurmountable.

After playing coy over the visit Tuesday, state department deputy spokesman Tom Casey Wednesday confirmed that Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, was indeed going to Delhi from Berlin where he is for G-8 meetings, but declined to spell them out.

"That's something that I'll leave to the negotiators to do," he said. "Obviously, we've been talking about this for a while. There are some differences that remain, but we're looking forward to being able to work those out. We certainly don't think any of them are insurmountable."

Casey said there are limits to the kind of flexibility that Washington can have as it must ensure that the final accord does conform with the relevant US legislation. "But the Indian government understands that, and I think we're well on our way towards an agreement."

He would not predict if anything will come out of this particular Burns trip, "but we're making progress, and we look forward to eventually concluding the deal."

In New Delhi, Burns, will continue the discussions on the 123 agreement that's an important component of implementing the overall US-India civil nuclear deal, Casey said.

"Certainly, we believe that such a deal is in the interest of both countries. We want to see this move forward and again, we've talked about the civil nuclear arrangement for a number of months now, but it is something that we believe is beneficial to both nations," he said.

"It represents a new level of cooperation between our countries and we also think it represents a strengthening of non-proliferation regimes. It certainly is something that's been endorsed by the IAEA as something they think will be helpful and beneficial and will provide greater surety to the world," Casey added.

The two sides are apparently working hard 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, but how far would they succeed is anybody's guess.

Burns, who was earlier expected to visit India in mid May after Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon's visit here and raised hopes that the deal may be closed by month end, put it off indefinitely 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 pact in London May 21-22 during which India clarified its concepts on key issues like nuclear testing and demand for access to reprocessing technologies.