January 20, 2006

Difficulties Ahead of Nuclear Pact with India: U.S

By Palash Kumar

NEW DELHI -- The United States said on Friday there were difficulties in realizing a landmark agreement on cooperation in civil nuclear energy with India but it was hopeful of clinching the deal.

The landmark accord, agreed in principle last July but still to be negotiated in detail, would grant New Delhi access to civil nuclear technology it has been denied for three decades, provided it separates its civilian and military facilities.

But critics within the U.S. Congress and elsewhere say the plan undermines global non-proliferation goals, and should be tightened up.

After two days of talks between U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, both sides said more talks were needed to thrash out the details.

"We've now had a thorough discussion with the competent nuclear authorities of each government ... about the intricacies and details of this (agreement)," Burns said at a joint news conference with Saran.

"And there's no question we have made some progress over the last six months but much further progress has to be made. And there are some difficulties ahead of us. But ... with goodwill and dedication, countries can reach agreements and I have the same feeling about this one," he added.

Asked what these difficulties were, Burns said that India's history in the nuclear sphere -- New Delhi conducted nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998 -- and the history of non-proliferation regime had added to the complexities of the talks.

He said for any agreement to be credible with the U.S. Congress and the 44-nation Nuclear Suppliers' Group, it had to be "detailed and substantial."

"There are still further ways to go. We both sides realize that we have our work cut out for the next several weeks ... And we'll have to see if we can be successful. I hope we can," he said.

The two-day talks were aimed at discussing India's plans to separate it's military and civilian nuclear facilities -- a crucial aspect for the agreement to fructify. The two officials said they hoped an agreement would be finalized before the likely visit of President George Bush to India in early March.

"We have come to the conclusion (that) we need to discuss this in greater detail in the coming days and weeks and this dialogue will continue," Saran said.

For 30 years, the United States led the effort to deny India nuclear technology because it tested and developed nuclear weapons in contravention of international norms.

India has refused to sign the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

But Bush now views India, a rising democratic and economic power on China's border, as an evolving core U.S. ally and the new nuclear deal is central to that vision.