August 31, 2006

India names special envoy for U.S. nuclear deal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India on Thursday named its outgoing
foreign secretary as special envoy for negotiations with the
United States over a controversial civilian nuclear cooperation
deal that is yet to be approved by U.S. Congress.

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, a career diplomat who heads
the foreign ministry and has led talks with Washington over the
deal, will take over as special envoy after his retirement from
his current post on September 30, a government statement said.

The Indian envoy to Pakistan, Shiv Shankar Menon, will
succeed Saran as the next foreign secretary, said the statement
from the prime minister's office.

The landmark India-U.S. nuclear deal aims to overturn three
decades of sanctions against New Delhi and supply atomic fuel
and equipment to help meet its soaring energy needs.

The deal has been approved by the U.S. House of
Representatives, while the Senate is due to vote on it next

It then needs to be jointly approved by the two houses and
also get the backing of the Nuclear Suppliers Group of nations
that regulate global atomic trade.

Nuclear non-proliferation activists in the U.S. and their
supporters in Congress have been critical of the deal saying it
encourages arms proliferation by India which has not signed the
nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Some Congressmen have sought to introduce changes to the
deal before they approve it but New Delhi has warned Washington
that tinkering with the pact could destroy it.

With the deal poised at a crucial stage, the Indian
government did not want to lose Saran's expertise and had
considered giving him an extension in his current job, one
government source told Reuters.

Saran, who has played an important role in a peace process
with Pakistan and in boosting ties with Washington, was not
keen on an extension but agreed to continue as a special envoy
for the nuclear deal, he said.

Menon, the new foreign secretary designate, is considered
an accomplished diplomat and has also served as India's
ambassador to China, Israel and Sri Lanka.