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Burns' visit: Tricky negotiations ahead
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | October 21, 2005 02:49 IST
Last Updated: October 26, 2005 19:08 IST
United States Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, one of the prime movers of the Indo-US nuclear deal, will hold two-day talks with Indian officials in New Delhi. His visit will also set the tone for the scheduled visit of US President George W Bush to India early next year.
Burns has plenty of business on hand when he sits across the table with Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran later on Thursday.
He is coming with reactions and questions raised on the Indo-US nuclear deal by many members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group like South Africa, Brazil and Sweden.
Although France, Russia and the UK have supported the deal, the UK and some dozen members have raised many queries regarding India's commitment. Burns will seek answers from India.
"His visit is critical because he has to go back and explain the Indian viewpoint to the US Congress," says Dr G Balachandran, an analyst based in New Delhi.
The Bush administration is putting in place a strategy to change US and international laws so that India can acquire unrestricted fuel for its civilian nuclear power plants.
Notwithstanding opposition in some sections in both countries India and US are set to take ahead their commitment made in Washington in the 'US-India Joint Statement' signed on July 18 by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during their White House summit.
The deal is considered one of the most ambitious between the two countries. It is also viewed by many as a major policy change by India because it has agreed to separate its civilian and military nuclear establishments. The US too has agreed to change its laws to help India develop civilian nuclear technology and take it's nuclear power production capacity to 30,000 megawatts.
Burns said his trip to New Delhi will focus on an "agreement to a timetable that will lead to decisions in the US Congress to change our law and the ultimate decision of the Indian government to meet their commitments."
Besides holding talks on the Asian security scenario there will also be a meeting of the nuclear working group, which was constituted to follow up on the July 18 agreement. Saran heads the working group from the Indian side.
Burns had embarrassed India while speaking at an Asia Society function in New York on October 19. He said, "India's recent vote to find Iran in non-compliance with International Atomic Energy Agency standards was an even more dramatic example of where it stands on the critical effort to prevent a theocratic Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability."
India explanation for its vote was almost opposite to what Burns said.
India said, "There are elements in the draft which we have difficulty with. For example, the draft recognises that 'good progress has been made in Iran's correction of the breaches and in the agency's ability to confirm certain aspects of Iran 's current declarations'. In view of this, finding Iran non-compliant in the context of Article XII-C of the agency's statute is not justified. It would also not be accurate to characterise the current situation as a threat to international peace and security."
Burns also linked the Iran issue with concessions to India. He said following India's vote against Iran, US Congressional opposition to the Indo-US nuclear agreement has disappeared.
He said, "By the time of President Bush's visit to India in early 2006, we plan to be in a position to ask Congress to make the necessary changes to put this agreement into effect. In the meantime, both India and the US need to take concrete steps to make this agreement possible."
But India will find it easier said than done. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh will have to take tough decisions to fulfil India's commitment to US.
The separation of military and civil establishments can begin only when Indian strategy thinkers, nuclear experts and diplomats decide what India's minimum credible deterrence should be.
The final decision will have to be taken by Dr Singh. Already he has consulted Dr Anil Kakodkar, secretary, Department of Atomic Energy.
The role of National Security Advisor M K Narayanan will also be crucial. Narayanan is busy getting views from a variety of experts.
Although the debate in New Delhi is not very vocal there is disagreement over India's threat perception.
Threats on any country are not static, but evolving and there can no agreement on such an issue, says a member of the National Security Advisory Board.
Sudha Mahalingam, senior research fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, believes that, "India should not crib over the issue of separation. We should just do it and throw the ball in US' court."
But people opposing deal claim that separation is not an easy job because it involves separation of huge manpower. Once they are put in charge of civilian facilities they can't be shifted to military plants.
Burns wants to fix the deadline but it's a complicated matter. Many critics don't want India to start the process of separation before the US Congress changes the law.
Mahalingam says, "Who makes first move should not be made an issue. We are already lobbying with France and Australia to get fuel so better we separate fast. If US doesn't stick to its commitment it will expose itself."
India also has to decide which nuclear projects should be kept in the civilian list and which should reserved for military purposes.
According to sources, the debate has begun but the government has not yet finalized the list.
"India has enough nuclear weapons. Dhruva, CIRUS and the Madras Atomic Power tation should be kept under the military list, and the rest should be allowed to be inspected by the IAEA," feels Mahalingam.
Fulfilling Burns' wish list of getting a timetable for separation of India's nuclear establishments will be a tough call for Shyam Saran.