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Vice President Cheney comes to the rescue of Indo-US N-deal
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
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Coverage: Indo-US nuclear deal
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July 20, 2007 00:30 IST

After more than two-and-a-half days of intense negotiations between US  and Indian negotiators to seal the 123 Agreement -- including the imprimatur of  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who joined the talks for a short while on  Tuesday -- failed to produce a breakthrough, National Security Adviser M K  Narayanan's meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday afternoon is expected to break the impasse.

Narayanan will be accompanied for the meeting with Cheney by Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon -- who has since Thursday morning been having another round of negotiation with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs  Nicholas Burns, the chief US interlocutor of the deal -- and Ambassador Ronen Sen.

Sources told that Cheney's endorsement of the Agreement -- which has been bogged down by the reprocessing issue -- most likely on India's terms, that is, where the US will acquiesce to New Delhi's proposal of a dedicated  facility under full-time safeguards to reprocess American nuclear fuel but sans international supervision as Washington negotiators over the past couple of days had been pushing for, would help to unlock the logjam and help to move the US-India civilian nuclear deal to the next phase.

The Administration negotiators have thus far refused to go along with  India's proposal on the dedicated facility because it's unlikely that the Congress would go along with any agreement that is not under international  supervision vis-�-vis the reprocessing of US fuel to India because of a paranoia that this fuel could be diverted for military purposes and to expand India's  nuclear weapons arsenal.

India, however, argues that its impeccable  nonproliferation track record should be enough to convince lawmakers  otherwise.

But according to sources, Cheney's endorsement of the proposal would then shift the onus on to the US business and industry and the Indian American  community to lobby the Congress -- as they did last year with the enabling  legislation to get it overwhelming approved by the Senate and House -- to get the  deal through even though the reprocessing provision contained in the Hyde Act  would not have the international supervision clause in the 123 Agreement.

Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar and the scientific establishment have made clear that they would shoot down any concession to the US on the reprocessing issue if negotiators agree to international  supervision.

Although Cheney has not been part of the engagement in terms of talks on the nuclear deal, and Narayanan's meetings on Wednesday were with his counterpart in the White House Stephen Hadley, sources noted that Cheney is well aware of the importance of the deal being consummated.

He had been kept apprised of the state of play in the past few month by his own National Security Adviser John Hannah, who has been meeting with senior Indian officials and being  informed of India's concerns over issues of reprocessing and testing.

These sources said that it must also not be forgotten of the case Cheney made in support of the deal last June in his keynote address to the US-India Business Council.

During his remarks at the time, Cheney said, "A strategic partnership in the 21st century also requires a new and realistic approach to  nuclear energy. For decades -- that issue, there was no cooperation at all between the US and India. India had developed nuclear power as a non-signatory to the  Nonproliferation Treaty and we never departed from the basic stance we took  during the Cold War."

But he argued that now the Bush Administration 'believes it's time to update our policy and to bring it into line with modern realities. And that is the primary purpose of the civil nuclear initiative that President Bush and  Prime Minister Singh agreed to several months ago'.

In that speech, Cheney acknowledged that 'India has a very good nonproliferation track record', and argued that 'India has no interest in the spread of this deadly technology. By taking additional steps to secure its nuclear materials and technology, India continues to build upon this track  record'.

And, in a significant assertion, Cheney is that speech, declared, "Given the agreement's strategic important, we must be sure that amendments or delays on the US side do not risk wasting this critical opportunity."

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