The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Strong scent of nuke deal

New Delhi, Feb. 24: After two days of negotiations, India and the US said “progress” had been made towards implementing the nuclear deal between the two countries, but were not ready yet to open the champagne bottle.

Foreign secretary Shyam Saran and US under-secretary of state Nicholas Burns had been talking to weed out the thorns in the deal so that an agreement could be prepared by the time President George W. Bush arrives next week.

The spadework by officials on separation of India’s civil and military nuclear facilities, the most difficult component of the talks, is over. Now the green signal for concluding the agreement has to come from the political leadership at the highest level.

At the end of the talks, India said there was greater clarity on the issues under discussion and that “progress has been made”.

Burns, however, denied the agreement was through, saying some issues were still being clarified. He said the two sides were working “very hard”, but “some more work” was to be done.

There were indications that a broad compromise had been reached on the key issue of the number of nuclear facilities India was willing to put on the civilian list, which would then become open to international inspection.

The Americans would not conclude the deal agreed between Singh and Bush last year until this was done. But Delhi was facing resistance from the domestic scientific community.

India had initially offered to place 14 of its 22 facilities on the civilian list. The time frame for implementing international safeguards for these laboratories was another point of difference.

Official sources said Washington had shown flexibility in keeping fast breeder reactors out of the separation plan for the time being. The Indian scientific establishment had opposed any move to expose its research project to develop fast breeder reactors to international inspection.

The details of the compromise were not clear, but India would make it known that the country’s sovereignty had not been compromised.

The will to get the agreement through was written on the faces of officials of the two sides who have been working since July 2005, when Singh and Bush announced the deal without actually reaching one, to clear the hurdle of a separation plan for India’s nuclear facilities that would be “transparent and credible” to the US.

Once the agreement is finalised, the US will cooperate with India in civilian nuclear facilities, an option that would also open up for Delhi with other nuclear powers.

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