The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Nuclear talks go under cover

Washington, June 24: The tortured negotiations over a 123 Agreement to operationalise the Indo-US nuclear deal will resume “under cover” here on Monday.

The negotiations are under cover because no formal meeting has been scheduled between Indian and US negotiators and nothing is on the official calendar of either government.

But India’s regular negotiator on the 123 Agreement and the high commissioner to Singapore, S. Jaishankar, is arriving in Washington late Sunday.

For the record, Jaishankar is here to speak at a biennial international non-proliferation conference hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. One of his hosts will, therefore, be Ashley Tellis, the senior associate at the Endowment specialising in international security, defence, and Asian strategic issues.

Tellis was part of the team which accompanied Nicholas Burns, the US under-secretary of state for political affairs, to New Delhi for a recent, much-publicised 123 round of talks. Tellis will informally talk to Jaishankar soon after his arrival, it is learnt.

On Monday, Jaishankar will be joined by another Indian negotiator, Raminder Jassal, the deputy chief of mission at the Indian embassy here, in similar informal chats with US officials during breaks at the non-proliferation conference.

The two sides will then sit down, unannounced, for a more organised round of discussions on Tuesday.

The secrecy surrounding the latest negotiations has been prompted by new clouds gathering over the Indo-US nuclear deal, which neither Jaishankar nor his primary US interlocutor, Richard Stratford, the state department’s director for nuclear energy, safety and security, can control.

There are fresh anxieties in New Delhi about the nuclear deal following a decision by the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva on the mandate of a newly-appointed coordinator to speed up negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT).

India is committed, under the original July 18, 2005, joint statement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush, to working with the Americans on an FMCT.

India agreed to that part of the joint statement two years ago because it appeared that the CD would not make progress towards an FMCT in the foreseeable future.

The possibility of a new coordinator pushing through an end to fissile material production is creating nightmares in New Delhi and in Trombay, the high table of the country’s nuclear establishment.

A restrictive 123 Agreement combined with an end to fissile material production could cap India’s nuclear weapons programme at a time when domestic uranium production is being hampered by a variety of reasons.

As such, no external supplies of uranium have opened up and may not do so in future if the 123 Agreement being negotiated is loaded against New Delhi.

In the face of these new challenges before the Indo-US nuclear deal, the government has so far put up a brave front.

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