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US to spring tough term

Washington, June 7: Little by little, the Americans are introducing new conditions into the Indo-US nuclear deal.

Next week, the two governments will sit down for tough negotiations on some conditions, which make it virtually impossible for any Indian government to go along with the broad agreement for bilateral cooperation in civil nuclear energy worked out between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George W. Bush.

According to sources here, US negotiator Richard Stratford will insist that India should return any material or equipment acquired under the deal if either side terminates the deal or is perceived to be in violation of the letter or spirit of the agreement for cooperation in civil nuclear energy.

Stratford, who is the director for nuclear energy, safety and security in the state department’s Bureau of International Security and Non-proliferation, will be the lead negotiator with the Indian government in next week’s talks in New Delhi.

In addition to requiring the return of material and equipment, the Americans want to get hold of all “nuclear material and weapons-usable by-product material” in India’s possession which was produced through the use of material and equipment acquired under the deal in the event of any perceived violation.

Experts here believe that such a demand is not only impossible and impractical, but also sets a dangerous precedent.

In the history of India’s nuclear programme, such an insistence would be comparable to Canada, France or the US having demanded the dismantling of either the Tarapur nuclear complex or the CIRUS reactor in Mumbai, alleging violation of Indian commitments on peaceful use of nuclear energy in the past.

Yet, ironically, India has not so far objected to such a US demand: the Americans had indicated as early as the beginning of April that their preference would be for such stringent clauses in any bilateral arrangement finalised between the two governments.

When foreign secretary Shyam Saran met the US under secretary of state for political affairs, Nicholas Burns, in London at the end of last month, he handed over to Burns a set of documents setting forth India’s ideas on a bilateral agreement required to implement the nuclear deal.

The Indian documents do not object to the stiff conditions which Stratford is now expected to demand of New Delhi, according to sources who have seen those papers.

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