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Last Updated: May 20, 2007 - 10:48:48 AM
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India optimistic 123 is doable, talks next week
May 15, 2007 - 8:07:04 PM
There is a new spirit of realism among both Indian and US negotiators with both sides aware of 'limiting factors' relating to domestic sensitivities they have to contend with in negotiating the pact.

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[RxPG] New Delhi, May 15 - Ahead of the crucial round of nuclear negotiations with the US next week, India believes that the 123 bilateral civil nuclear agreement is 'doable' but is clear that it will not accept any bar on testing and access to reprocessing technologies in such a pact.

US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, Washington's chief interlocutor on the nuclear deal, will arrive here early next week for a decisive round of negotiations aimed at fleshing out a 'legally binding text' that will enable full civilian nuclear cooperation with India after a hiatus of nearly three decades.

Burns will hold talks with Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and Prime Minister's Special Envoy on India-US civil nuclear deal Shyam Saran to narrow down differences over key issues like testing, reprocessing technologies and the nature of New Delhi's safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The broad idea is to finalise a workable legal text that will govern civil nuclear cooperation between the two countries. There is a growing realisation on both sides that the 123 pact should be done 'as quickly as possible'.

If there are still any outstanding issues left, they will be taken up when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will meet US President George W. Bush on the sidelines of the G-8 summit in Germany.

New Delhi has also made it clear that it will not settle for a 123 pact, named after Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act, that will not give it access to reprocessing technologies and is even ready to risk the deal on this issue.

The 123 talks take place less than three weeks after Menon and Burns met in Washington and reported 'considerable progress' on contentious issues, fuelling hopes that a final agreement will not take long.

'Anything that constricts India's strategic programme and its indigenous three-stage nuclear energy programme will not be acceptable to India,' a reliable source said ahead of the negotiations.

'In no way our voluntary moratorium on testing be allowed to made into a legally binding one,' the source added.

'It is doable in technical sense. The idea is to insulate India's strategic programme. What is on the table is civil nuclear cooperation with the US,' the source said while admitting that there is always a level of political uncertainty that goes with such path-breaking deals.

Another issue on which India is clear is that it will not allow the US to link up civil nuclear cooperation with its other vital relationships like the one with Iran that Washington frowns upon.

There is a new spirit of realism among both Indian and US negotiators with both sides aware of 'limiting factors' relating to domestic sensitivities they have to contend with in negotiating the pact.

The 123 pact has to be approved by both houses of the US Congress by an up-and-down vote and the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group will also have to approve the deal before India resumes civil nuclear trade with the US and other nations.

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