Home India News Reprocessing deal on table during Manmohan-Obama talks

Reprocessing deal on table during Manmohan-Obama talks

By Manish Chand, IANS,

New Delhi : When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has dinner at the White House with President Barack Obama Nov 24, the nuclear deal may not be the main course but the two leaders are set to focus on the unfinished part of the nuclear business, including a pact on reprocessing spent fuel now in its final stages.

With barely a week to go before Manmohan Singh goes to Washington, top officials have accelerated efforts to bridge the gap over the reprocessing deal that will enable India to use the spent fuel in a dedicated national facility set up under international safeguards.

Serious efforts are being made to stich a reprocessing agreement, highly placed sources told IANS. With the gap between the two sides narrowing, it will be on the table during the Washington talks, the sources added.

With a view to reaching a reprocessing deal, a key US commitment under the 123 India-US civil nuclear agreement, the two sides have decided to hold another round of talks Nov 20-21, on the eve of Manmohan Singh’s visit, to finalise “an agreement on arrangements and procedures for reprocessing spent fuel”.

Manmohan Singh goes to Washington Saturday on a four-day visit – the first state visit the Obama administration will host. It is expected to take the burgeoning strategic partnership between India and the US to another level by expanding cooperation in various areas, ranging from counter-terrorism and climate change to energy and food security.

According to the 123 agreement concluded last year, the negotiations on reprocessing to be done in a safeguarded facility in India has to be completed within a year after talks begin.

The two sides held the first round of negotiations on reprocessing in July. Although there are months left before the deadline, the two sides are keen to clinch the reprocessing pact at the earliest as there have been conflicting signals from Washington on the transfer of reprocessing technologies.

The two sides will also review the remaining steps required to resume nuclear business. This includes the Indian parliament passing a civil nuclear liability legislation and an assurance from the Indian government to American nuclear companies that the atomic equipment will not be misused or proliferated.

According to the US rules, the US department of energy would not be able to issue the mandatory license – called Part 810 – to American companies for doing any atomic nuclear trade with a country without a letter of non-proliferation assurance.

India and the US signed a landmark civil nuclear pact last year to allow New Delhi to access nuclear equipment and fuel barred to it since India’s first nuclear test in May 1974.

To smoothen the nuclear business, India last month announced two nuclear park sites in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat for American companies. Ahead of Manmohan Singh’s visit, Robert Blake, the US pointsperson for South Asia, welcomed the development and underlined Washington was “firmly committed to move forward on that as quickly as possible.”

Asked about any residual issues coming in the way of implementing the nuclear deal, Blake — a former number two in the US embassy in New Delhi — reiterated that after the announcement of the two nuclear park sites, the US was “firmly committed to full implementation of the civil nuclear deal”.