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Since 1st March, 1999
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After N-hiccup, a belly ache
- India moots national vault for spent fuel
Manmohan Singh, who prefers vegetarian food, chats with George W. Bush, who had a stomach ailment earlier on Friday, in Heiligendamm, Germany. “He’s just not feeling well in the stomach, and guess he didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of his father in Asia,” White House counsellor Dan Bartlett said, explaining why Bush skipped the G8 summit morning meetings. In January 1992, George Bush, the father of the current President, had vomited and collapsed during a state dinner at Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa’s residence. (AP picture)

Berlin, June 8: The fragility of the nuclear deal was driven home to Indian officials at the Heiligendamm resort this morning when a viral saboteur kept President George W. Bush in bed longer than usual and nearly wrecked an encounter with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

But Bush soon overcame the stomach ailment and rose from bed to meet the Prime Minister for a “few minutes”.

India had a second line of defence ready in the form of national security adviser M.K. Narayanan, who had a more substantive conversation with his US counterpart Steve Hadley.

Foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, who accompanied the Prime Minister, said the meeting with Bush lasted 10 minutes and both sides were now going home to review the story so far.

Turns out that when Singh met Bush, his first words were: “We were worried, how is your health now'’’

Bush replied: “I am fine, I had a digestive problem.”

But Menon refused to elaborate on what was discussed in those 10 minutes. “Both of us are committed to seeing it through. Both of us think that it’s doable,” he said.

It is learnt that New Delhi had proposed to Washington that in order to break the reprocessing deadlock, India would dedicate a national facility for storing the spent fuel from the safeguarded civilian nuclear reactors.

This offer had been made on the eve of the visit of US diplomat Nicholas Burns to India last week, and Narayanan, who stays in constant touch with Hadley, has now put forward this proposal to him in Heiligendamm.

Official sources, describing the storage facility as a “concession” and a “step back” from the position that India had earlier adopted on reprocessing, said they hoped the proposal would get a positive response from the US.

Asked in what way India considered it a concession, the sources said the dedicated national facility would also be open to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The officials said they hoped the US would be able to look at this proposal carefully and Bush would take a “political call” on the fact that New Delhi was willing to meet the Americans half way.

India feels that the July 18, 2005, and March 2, 2006, agreements with the US allow full reprocessing rights. However, if the US had had any second thoughts, the officials said, India would like to make every effort to go half way and clear the air.

It was not clear whether Singh managed to convey India’s hopes that Bush would be able to take a “political call” on the now stalled nuclear deal with India as the meeting was for such a short period.

On the other major obstacle to the nuclear deal — immunity for a strategic fuel reserve — officials said they hoped the offer on reprocessing would also convince the US that India could be trusted to keep its side of the bargain.

Singh also took a short walk with Russian President Vladimir Putin and met the new President of France, Nicholas Sarkozy, as well as outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

atomic angst

The Indian atomic establishment struck a note of caution while the Prime Minister was meeting the US President. The Atomic Energy Commission chairman, Anil Kakodkar (in picture), said in Hyderabad India would not accept the deal if it adversely affected Delhi’s nuclear programme. It is unusual for an official to articulate his views in the middle
of talks at the highest political level.

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