Atomic boss in N-team

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By JYOTI MALHOTRA in Delhi
  • Published 11.07.07
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New Delhi, July 11: When national security adviser M. K. Narayanan sits down to negotiate with his US counterpart Steve Hadley on July 16-17, the composition of his delegation is a sure signal that the nuclear deal being negotiated between the two sides is in its final stages.

Apart from foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon and India’s ambassador to Singapore S. Jaishanker, the presence of atomic energy chief Anil Kakodkar in the high-powered Indian side indicates not only that the department of atomic energy has come on board, but that the entire Indian establishment is speaking in one voice.

In fact, an unusual telephone conversation between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George W. Bush this evening, confirming that Narayanan and his team will visit the US for talks, also signals the American willingness to give a political thrust to the deal at the highest level.

The visit of India’s ambassador to the US, Ronen Sen, to India for consultations with the Prime Minister last week, further establishes the point that the endgame is near.

Highly placed sources said everything now depends on the US side to give India the right to reprocess spent fuel. Delhi has already said the fuel will not be used in its military programme.

It is not clear whether Bush indicated as much to the Prime Minister during the call — saying the US is willing to give India the right to reprocess. However, if Narayanan is able to pull this off with the Americans next week, the deal is as good as done.

A signature ceremony would then become a formality, possibly between the two foreign ministers.

The Prime Minister, in a meeting with women journalists last week, had said he would meet Bush when he travels to the US for the UN General Assembly meeting. The sources pointed out that it was Narayanan’s offer to Hadley last month, on Delhi’s willingness to constitute a separate storage facility for the spent fuel that would be subject to additional safeguards and inspections, that seems to have broken the deadlock.

The offer had the consent of Kakodkar and, therefore, the entire atomic energy establishment. It also indicated that this was the limit to which Delhi was prepared to go.

This offer of a safeguarded storage facility, the sources felt, should also take care of the concerns that the US has over the reprocessed fuel being used for India’s military programme.

Considering the bitter history of nuclear dealings between India and the US, especially when Washington reneged over promised supplies for the Tarapur nuclear plant, India’s belief that it must have the fundamental right to reprocess also allows it strategic as well as political autonomy.

The sources said both sides will have to negotiate a strategic fuel reserve, meaning uninterrupted supply of fuel for the 14 safeguarded civilian reactors. This, however, was a side concern.