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'Nuclear deal is top priority for Bush'
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | December 22, 2005 11:59 IST
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday assured Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran that implementing the US-India civilian nuclear agreement is a top priority of President George Bush.
She said the administration will pull out all stops to seek the necessary changes in US law by Congress to make it a reality once it has India's credible and transparent plan vis-à-vis the separation of its civilian and military nuclear facilities.
Senior administration officials told rediff.com that Rice had also informed Saran that once the proposal is finalised, she and her closest aides will continue to consult with the Congressional leadership to seek approval of the deal since it's an integral facet of the growing US-India strategic partnership.
Rice's 20-minute meeting with Saran, preceded the Foreign Secretary's two-day discussions with his counterpart, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns -- the administration's point man to push the deal through Congress -- on India's plan to separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities.
In the past few weeks, Burns has discussed the nuclear deal with several experts, including the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Richard Lugar.
However, sources told rediff.com that the issue is unlikely to be settled during Saran's visit.
They said Burns will make a follow-up visit to India in January for another meeting of the Joint Working Group before nailing down an iron-clad proposal with guarantees by New Delhi.
Lugar has said that his committee is not likely 'to return to this subject until February, although Secretary Burns and I continue with our consultations'.
He has also said there is one school of thought that believes Bush is delaying his trip to India by a few weeks hoping that he can go to New Delhi with a Congress-approved nuclear deal in hand.
But Congressional sources have told rediff.com that there is no way the deal is going to materialise in the next few months.
They say Congress won't approve the deal until and unless all of its concerns are allayed.
The sources also acknowledged that the powerful nuclear non-proliferation lobby has also been on overdrive on Capitol Hill meetings with staffers and have been poking several holes in the deal.
At the question and answer session that followed his address at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Saran was asked about the concerns in Congress and what India was doing to allay these apprehensions.
Saran said, "It is the United States that committed itself to bringing about the kind of legislative changes required and work together with its partners in the Nuclear Suppliers Group and make full civilian nuclear energy co-operation with India possible. So this is a US responsibility."
"We cannot negotiate with the United States Congress," he said.
He, however, said India will do whatever is needed to convince public opinion in the United States and among the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Other roadblocks for the deal: