25 April 2007

Major obstacles persist in nuclear deal

Indian officials say "big problems" remain on scope of cooperation and termination conditions, with the U.S., inter alia, demanding inclusion of a "right of return" clause in the 123 agreement. India feels the officials doing the technical negotiations have gone as far as they can and that now is the time to give the process a political push.

25 April 2007
The Hindu

Major obstacles persist in nuclear deal

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: Despite four days of talks in Cape Town last week, India and the United States have failed to narrow their differences on the conditions under which bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation can take place.

Indian officials say that while progress was made on the "principles of cooperation," "big problems" persist on the scope of cooperation and termination conditions. "Quite frankly, there are areas where we have not even reached agreement on what to agree about," a senior official told The Hindu .

In particular, seven issues are proving intractable in the negotiations over the crucial bilateral agreement — the 123 agreement — which will govern the transfer of nuclear equipment and material from the U.S. The official perception here is that the technical experts have gone as far as their pay grade will allow and that a political push to the process is needed. This is what Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon will try to do when he meets U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns in Washington, D.C. on April 30, the officials say.

Heading the list of obstacles is the U.S. insistence on including a "right of return" clause for anything sold under the agreement. Though there is no direct reference to the possibility of an Indian nuclear test, the U.S. draft states cooperation will cease if either country feels a situation has arisen which jeopardises its supreme national interest. In such a situation, there will be a period of consultation between the two sides, followed by the termination of ongoing cooperation. Finally, India will be required to return imported equipment and material — including its nuclear fuel stockpile.

This formulation is unacceptable, say the officials, because it violates the lifetime fuel supply assurances given by the U.S. and because it will convert India's "political commitment" to abide by its test moratorium into an obligation with legal consequences. India favours a more narrowly construed, prospective termination clause linked to any violation of the 123 agreement.

Other obstacles

Apart from the right of return, the major obstacles are (1) lifetime fuel guarantees for Indian civilian reactors in return for perpetuity safeguards; (2) the U.S. insistence on "fallback" bilateral safeguards in addition to IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards; (3) the U.S. refusal to allow India to import components and technology for safeguarded reprocessing and enrichment activity; (4) the U.S. refusal to allow reprocessing of spent fuel; (5) the sequencing of the 123 negotiations and India's IAEA safeguards agreement; and (6) the timing and nature of the Nuclear Suppliers Group's decision to amend its guidelines to allow commerce with India.

"Real negotiations"

Despite the gulf separating the two sides, the Indian officials deny that the agreement is on the verge of collapsing. These are real negotiations, said one official, and India was going to play tough on the fine print. "We will not be hustled into giving up our positions just because the U.S. is putting out stories that there will be a breakdown."

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