India, US achieve accord on nuclear deal

Washington/New Delhi: After teetering on the edge for quite some time, India and the United States of America appear to have secured a satisfactory ending to the path breaking nuclear deal, which had initially promised much but ran into political quicksand after a period of time. If an accord, as reported, has been arrived at, then it portends to launch the often acrimonious India -US relations onto a different, and a very positive, trajectory altogether.

Reports emanating from Washington suggest that the agreement, which has been reached by both the negotiating teams, will now be referred to their respective governments for a 'final review'. According to official sources, no official announcement has been made because the text first needs to be approved by the Indian Government's Cabinet and also to gauge domestic reaction.

At the end of four days of hardboiled negotiations, a joint statement issued by the two sides said, ' The discussions were constructive and positive.

'Both Under Secretary Burns and Foreign Secretary Menon are pleased with the substantial progress made on the outstanding issues in the 123 agreement.'

The bald statement, which only hints at some good news, may well see the US acceding to some key Indian demands - the right to reprocess spent fuel, and also structuring the language of the accord suitably to assure that fuel supplies are not disrupted even if India should conduct a nuclear test.

The composition of the negotiating teams reflected the urgency that both sides felt about wrapping up the deal. For a 'lame duck' Bush Presidency, as it is being increasingly characterized, the nuclear accord between the two nations would turn out to be a rare foreign policy success.

For India, a nation that has been battling nuclear isolation for well on three decades, the accord would not only ease nuclear fuel supplies for its existing and new reactors, but also provide fresh momentum to its campaign for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.

The top-level team of negotiators sent by India to Washington this time round included National Security advisor, MK Narayanan, Atomic Energy Chairman, Anil Kakodkar and Foreign Secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon.

On the American side, intervening at crucial stages of the negotiations were vice-president, Dick Cheney, who met with Narayanan, as well as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The deal now needs to be cleared by the US Congress and also pass domestic tests in India, with both the Left parties and the opposition, right wing, BJP waiting to see if the Union Government has given away more concessions to the Americans than required.

The deal would appear to be critical for India if it is to achieve 10 per cent of its energy supply from nuclear power, as against its current 3 per cent. It will also clear the path for India to access the latest dual use nuclear technology for medicine, weather forecasting, research and defence.