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Home > News > Specials

The Rediff Special/ Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi

Explained: Nicholas Burns' visit to Delhi

May 31, 2007

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All about the Indo-US nuclear deal
Today's Top Reports

The untiring and affable United States Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns is in New Delhi to close the nuclear cooperation deal, for which negotiations have been on for more than 20 months, amidst huge protests from both sides.

While Burns had said the deal is 90% done, the Indian side has been mum.

That's because, when Burns checked in on Thursday in New Delhi, the Indian still maintained that only 75 to 80 per cent of their demands were met.

The deal, which was on fast track since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George W Bush signed it on July 18, 2005, has been slowed down with the two sides negotiating the 123 Agreement, which will eventually take India out of the sphere of nuclear apartheid.

Of late, the parleys have been so intense that one of the recent meetings in Cape Town, South Africa, lasted seven hours, uninterrupted.

With the discussions considered to be in the last stages, a lot of criticism and last minute appeals have been surfacing now and then. However, the Prime Minister's Office is aware that protests as of today are not as shrill as they were earlier.

Sources in the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party claim that senior leaders Lal Kishenchand Advani and Arun Jaitely are not entirely against the deal even while Brajesh Mishra is influencing former prime minister Atal behari Vajapyee.

However, a highly-placed source in the MEA claims that, "The 123 Agreement will have all that was promised by Prime Minister Singh to the Parliament on August 17."

The source, not wanting to be named for this report, said: "People who are criticising the deal should understand that the deal is not only negotiated by M K Narayanan, S S Menon, Shyam Saran or S Jaishankar. On the table, Anil Kakodkar and two distinguished scientists of the Department of Atomic Energy are always present.

"R B Grover, the former head of Light Water reactors at BARC, is a nuclear scientist having vast experience. He is Kakodkar's close ally since many years, while N Raghuraman is also a technical expert with an international exposure. Both these scientists are part of the team who is negotiating 123 Agreement.

The Indian diplomats and Indian scientists are working together to clinch the best possible bargain for India."

So, in the final stage will India get what it wants?

The source in the MEA says that the last minute negotiations are not all about whether the 123 Agreement will allow India the option to test nuclear capacity again or not. Nor is it about the issue of reprocessing of nuclear fuel. There are other issues also, which haven't come in the public domain for which the bargaining is still on.

The source said: "In the sound and fury for and against the deal, an important thing to note is that the talks never broke down. The top leadership -- President Bush and PM Singh -- never backed out. Not even behind closed doors."

Yes, Dr Singh was defensive in the later part of 2006, as evident from his speeches in Parliament but he never asked to block the deal or talks, claims a source close to PM Singh.

In essence, Foreign Secretary Menon will have to nail whatever has been laid out by Saran's team in the last 20 months.

A member of the negotiating team, while talking off the record, said, "While Indian diplomats respect Dr Kakodkar for his pragmatism and dignity and salute Dr M R Srinivasan for inking the Tarapur deal for fuel supply -- it's the perfectly written deal -- India failed to continue getting the fuel.

"These deals are important, but more important are the powers the nation wields in international arena."

Another diplomat added: "After all, what matters is the power possessed by the country on the international platform with the combination of economic growth and military strength. "

The source in MEA also pointed out that the Hyde Act or the 123 Agreement can be "managed" but the real tough legislation is the US Atomic Energy Act.

China and Iran, in private conversations with the countries concerned with India's nuclear status, are quoting the US Atomic Energy Act to pose a challenge to India.

On the Indian side, not just the deal but even the negotiations are being severely criticised because the US wants India to separate the civil and weapons-making nuclear establishments which once done, is almost, an irreversible and risky process. Also, the US is reluctant to award India maneuvering capabilities to use the spent fuel in its own advantage.

The Indian critics say that the US is only interested in capping India's capacity to make bombs and actually dragging India to sign NPT. Another major charge is that the US will influence India's foreign policy once India becomes dependent for fuel supply on other countries.

This can have serious implications on India's security considerations vis-�-vis China and Pakistan.

But, those defending the deal claim that "deals are all about give and take."

Take the nuclear fuel now, when you want to grow and grow fast, they say. Import dual technology that is impossible to get now, come out of the sanctions regime and tough conditions that do not allow India's high-technology sector of weapons, space and engineering to grow, they argue.

Accept big-time investment, take the US businessmen on board now, and then, develop the thorium-based technology to produce energy, they emphasise.

These arguments are made by people who believe in Manmohan Singh's economics.

They think India wants money and not bombs to tackle the problems of poverty and agriculture. They argue that India already has the minimum nuclear deterrent and can silently push the scientists to activate the nuclear research.

Most importantly, Russia, France, UK and Australia have said that none of them can provide fuel or nuclear power plants without the US giving them the green signal.

So, the refrain goes, when you have to deal with the US, and why not deal faster and close the deal when India-friendly Bush is around? And, who knows what the Democrats will demand, if and when they come to power?

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