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Bush and Singh set up German date

New Delhi, May 7: The stage is set for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush to meet on the sidelines of a summit in Germany next month to give a final political push to the 123 nuclear agreement.

The meeting is expected to take place during the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, from June 6 to 8.

Bush spoke to Singh this evening over the phone for around 10 minutes. Besides the nuclear deal, the leaders touched upon climate change and trade.

Singh accepted Bush’s invitation to visit the US and said mutually convenient dates would be worked out. The American President’s call came against the backdrop of the recent meeting between foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and his US counterpart Nicholas Burns.

The meeting ensured that the deal stayed “on track”, and it was left to the two leaders to give it a “political focus”, sources said.

Burns is arriving in Delhi either this month or early next month for one more round of talks, after which Singh and Bush will meet at the German resort to finalise discussions.

The most important issue to be finalised is India’s right to conduct a nuclear test as well as the consequences in case India decides to explode a device.

The other ticklish issue — the right to reprocess spent fuel — could be “kicked down the road” and dealt with as and when the US and other countries build reactors in India, which could be at least 10 years away.

During the Menon-Burns talks, the US apparently assured fuel supply to all nuclear reactors America will build in India.

On testing, Indian sources acknowledged that according to US law, the American government has the right to cease cooperation with any country that conducts a nuclear test. Moreover, according to a “right-to-return’’ clause, the US government in principle can ask for all material and equipment that have been supplied to the offending country.

It appears that Delhi will accept the clause, knowing well that the US Congress will not amend the law for India’s sake.

In return, the US will agree to keep the “language of implementation’’ vague. The 123 agreement will be so drafted that it will not really hurt India.

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