What happens Friday will be crucial...
1 June 2007
Nuclear talks begin
New Delhi: India and the United States held one round of technical discussions on Thursday afternoon on their draft nuclear cooperation agreement but have yet to begin the hard grind towards resolving their differences on the major issues separating them.
Senior officials told The Hindu that Thursday's talks were not exhaustive since India's principal negotiator, S. Jaishankar, arrived back in Delhi from Singapore only in the afternoon. One round of "political" discussion was also held between Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and the visiting U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns, and a further exchange of views between the two senior officials was slated for a "small working dinner" on Thursday night.
Based on Thursday's technical interaction, the opinion on the Indian side is that their American interlocutors do not appear to have brought any new proposal on the two big obstacles standing in the way of the `123 agreement': the U.S. refusal to allow India the right to reprocess spent fuel produced by American-manufactured reactors, and the U.S. insistence on including a "right of return" over any nuclear equipment or material such as the strategic nuclear fuel reserve sold to India, in the event of an Indian nuclear test.
The Indian perception is that since there is no further room for manoeuvre or compromise on their side, everything now depends on the proposals the U.S. delegation has brought with it. "Let us see what they show us on Friday," one official said.
Nearly there: Burns
Though neither side was prepared officially to brief the media on the agenda or course of the talks currently under way, Mr. Burns told reporters outside South Block earlier in the day that "we are nearly there although ... some work has to be done, some hard work has to be done."
Mr. Burns is due to leave India on Saturday. Though Mr. Menon has taken direct charge of the nuclear talks since the end of January, Mr. Burns also met the Prime Minister's special envoy for the nuclear issue, Shyam Saran, on Thursday.