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American nuclear top gun set for Delhi

New Delhi, Feb. 3: US nuclear regulatory commission chairman Richard Meserve is scheduled to pay an official visit to India later this month, in a move signalling the growing ties between the two nations and paves the way for closer co-operation in nuclear areas, including facilitation of dual-purpose high-tech trade.

This will be the first visit by the chairman of the US commission since Washington imposed sanctions on India following the May 1998 Pokhran II nuclear tests. The nuclear regulatory commission is an independent body that is the final authority on nuclear licensing and regulatory mechanism.

Meserve’s week-long visit beginning February 21 is a clear indication that Washington is now clearing the remaining obstacles in the path of closer co-operation with India on transfer of nuclear and dual purpose high-tech trade.

Meserve will hold talks with Indian officials on nuclear safety regulatory measures and how the two sides could co-operate further in this field. He will also visit the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and the Atomic Energy Commission for an on-the-spot assessment of the arrangements that have been put in place and to see whether these could be improved.

The nuclear panel chief’s visit will follow a meeting between India and the US on setting up a high-technology co-operation group tomorrow. Foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, who is leading an Indian delegation to Washington, will hold talks with US undersecretary for commerce Kenneth Juster and other officials. The focus of the discussions will be co-operation in civilian space, nuclear areas and dual-purpose high-tech trade.

Transfer of dual-use and high technology from the US to India has been a sticky subject in bilateral relations. Delhi has for years been demanding access to such technology, while Washington had insisted that India needs to have stricter export controls in place, especially in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

The proposed high-technology co-operation group is an attempt to cut through red-tape in expediting transfers of dual-use and high-technology from Washington to Delhi. The outcome of tomorrow’s meeting between Sibal and Juster will in effect mean that the two sides are putting in place a new arrangement to replace the 1984 bilateral Memorandum of Understanding on technology transfer.

The first obstacles were removed in November when Juster headed a high-level US delegation to Delhi and held detailed discussions with Indian officials on smooth transfer of these items between the two sides. This is the first group of its kind that the Americans have with any country.

“The group would expeditiously work towards developing a new statement of principles governing bilateral co-operation in high technology trade that broadly advances our relationship in this area, including addressing ways to increase trade in dual-use goods and technologies,” said a senior foreign ministry official said.

The official pointed out that the two sides have recognised that improvement in this area is needed and have promised to think “boldly and creatively” on steps to enhance high-technology trade in a way that reflects their “new relationship” and “common strategic interests”.

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