Washington, July 16: On the eve of what could be the final round of talks on operationalising the Indo-US nuclear deal through a so-called 123 Agreement, the good news is that reprocessing of spent fuel produced by any American reactors imported by India remains the only roadblock in the way of wrapping up the negotiations.The bad news is that the positions taken by New Delhi and Washington are so divergent that differences on this issue could still derail this week’s talks between Indian and US national security advisers M.K. Narayanan and Stephen Hadley.
According to highly placed sources in the Bush administration, if talks between Narayanan and Hadley break down on Wednesday, there is a strong possibility that US Vice-President Dick Cheney may step in and salvage the negotiations.
Cheney, who is often described as the “real President” of the US, has intervened decisively in the American process of seeing through the nuclear deal twice in the last two years: once with the US Congress, where he is president of the Senate and once with the decision-making process in the executive.
Even as the US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice postponed her trip to the high-priority Middle East to be available to US negotiators on the nuclear deal -- without admitting as much -- Narayanan has responded by agreeing to spend a whole week in the US to wrap up the deal in what may become an Indo-US negotiating marathon here.
Middle-level negotiators from both sides have been engaging each other for the past several weeks electronically and on telephone. As a result, two major issues which had clouded the prospect of successful talks here this week are no longer roadblocks in the way of concluding a 123 Agreement.
The two sides had reached agreement some time ago that the only way out of tying India down in penal clauses for any future nuclear test was to merely restate the known positions of both sides on the issue.
That formula would enshrine India’s “voluntary” moratorium in the text of the 123 Agreement, which will also contain references to legal requirements in the US on the consequences of weapons testing by a non-nuclear weapons state.
In addition, India is now demanding that there should not be any expeditious cut-off in the supply of nuclear fuel in the event of an Indian test and that any such termination in US fuel supplies should not affect normal operations in the Indian civilian nuclear programme.
This has been conceded by the US, according to at least one American negotiator.