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Delhi fires Bush Brahmastra

Washington, June 28: Indian negotiators on the nuclear deal have put the Americans on the mat by pointing out that their President, George W. Bush, has promised reprocessing rights to India and said so in public.

India’s new negotiating strategy on the so-called 123 Agreement to operationalise the nuclear deal is, therefore, to treat the issue of reprocessing spent fuel produced by any American reactors imported by India as an issue which has already been settled.

Reprocessing rights for India has been one of the stumbling blocks in concluding the 123 Agreement even after several rounds of talks between the two sides for 15 months.

India’s negotiators on the 123 Agreement, S. Jaishankar and Raminder Singh Jassal, met their American interlocutor, Richard J.K. Stratford, for a round of unannounced talks here on Tuesday.

The absence of agreement on reprocessing during talks between diplomats and technical experts on both sides has now forced New Delhi to use its Brahmastra, which is Bush’s commitment on reprocessing.

At his joint news conference with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi’s Hyderabad House on March 2, 2006, Bush acknowledged that he had advocated reprocessing rights for India.

“I proposed reprocessing agreements — that stands in stark contrast to current nuclear theology that we should not reprocess for proliferation concerns,” Bush said in answer to a question on why India was being rewarded for its “bad behaviour” in not signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

“I don’t see how you can advocate nuclear power, in order to take the pressure off of our own economy, for example, without advocating technological development of reprocessing, because reprocessing will not only — reprocessing is going to help with the environmental concerns with nuclear power. It will make there — to put it bluntly, there will be less material to dispose.”

He added: “And so I am trying to think differently, not to stay stuck in the past, and recognise that by thinking differently, particularly on nuclear power, we can achieve some important objectives, one of which is less reliance on fossil fuels; second is to work with our partners to help both our economies grow; and thirdly is to be strong on dealing with the proliferation issues.”

India’s new line in the 123 negotiations may have been behind US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s assertion yesterday at the annual meeting of the US-India Business Council that the nuclear deal will be done only by the end of this year.

The implication of her statement was that completion of the next stage in the nuclear deal required a meeting between the US President and the Indian Prime Minister, which is now expected to take place here in August or September.

Speaking at a panel discussion immediately after Rice’s speech, Sanjaya Baru, media adviser to the Prime Minister, said a political decision has been made at the highest level in the Indian and US governments to see through the nuclear deal.

Completion of the 123 negotiations depends on Washington, he noted, implying that the US has to fulfil the commitments it made, including Bush’s commitment on reprocessing.The nuclear deal, he said, is more an issue of trust between the two governments than anything else.

Ashley Tellis, a strategic expert who was part of the US team which went to New Delhi recently for the 123 talks, said the nitty-gritty of the negotiations should be completed in the next few weeks.

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