The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Stage set for nuke ‘hard grind’

Tokyo, Dec. 13: The nuclear deal has crossed the hurdle in the US Congress, but there is still much the two countries have to negotiate. The “hard grind” starts now, sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said.

PMO officials accompanying Manmohan Singh to Tokyo suggested that the discussions on the 123 Agreement (which will be signed with the US putting into effect the nuclear deal) will focus on the issue of “(nuclear fuel) reprocessing technologies”.

Dismissing complaints that the US legislation leaves little option for New Delhi but to follow US-dictated terms, the sources said several issues were still open to bilateral negotiations.

Other than the 123 Agreement, the issues of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) guidelines for civilian nuclear cooperation and of International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards are to be discussed between India and the US.

National security adviser M.K. Narayanan hinted that Japan was “not unwilling” to support the Indian position on the NSG guidelines. Sometime back, NSG members had linked the proposed amendments to the guidelines to the changes in US laws that would facilitate the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation.

The government’s position was, however, not officially explained. The Prime Minister, too, did not have his customary interaction with the media on the flight because Parliament is to debate the nuclear deal on Monday. Singh is likely to make a statement during the debate.

The sources, however, argued that the US legislation would be considered along with the statements Singh made in Parliament in March in the wake of President George W. Bush’s visit and then in August this year.

The BJP and the Left have complained that the US legislation makes significant departures from those statements.

Although the Prime Minister’s two-day Japan trip is focused on economic issues, the two sides will look to strengthen the strategic partnership and upgrade it to a global partnership, Narayanan said.

Cooperation on security and anti-terrorism strategies will figure in Singh’s talks with the new Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, over the next two days along with agreements to widen the scope for economic exchanges.

The signing of a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement is on the cards. A study group working on the possibilities of such cooperation is expected to finalise its report in a few months.

The two countries, however, may take some more time to think of signing a free trade agreement.

Japan, according to principal secretary T.K.A. Nair, is interested in investing in infrastructure, including SEZs and the proposed Mumbai-Delhi freight corridor.

There is a growing feeling in Japan that it had “underestimated” India’s economic potential and the scope for investments in India. Japan is keen on doing a “course correction” fast.

Nair referred to a move by Jetro (Japan Economic and Trade Organisation) to open a facilitation centre for Japanese investors in India. A Jetro centre was recently opened in Bangalore.

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