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US, India close to civil nuclear agreement: Burns
Sridhar Krishnaswami in Washington | January 28, 2006 12:14 IST
India and the United States are very close to an agreement on civilian nuclear energy cooperation but towards the end of the negotiating process some of the most difficult issues arise, a senior US State Department official has said.
"It is my assessment that we are very close to an agreement. Often in negotiations, when you get to the end, some of the most difficult issues arise," Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters in Washington on Friday.
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"I think we have made some progress. I think we need to see further progress. There are a few issues. And I should not go into them because they should remain confidential, but they remain barriers to an agreement. I do not believe they are inseparable," he said.
However, Burns did not assure that the deal would be finished by the time the President George W Bush visited India in March.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Bush agreed on the basic outline of the civil nuclear cooperation in Washington in July last year and the two countries had hoped to conclude the pact before the President's visit.
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"Our hope has been that we will be able to conclude a bilateral agreement on civil nuclear cooperation…that would happen as soon as possible. And that might even happen before the President's visit. That remains our plan and I have been in touch with the Indian government this week," he said.
Referring to the controversy over the comments of the American Ambassador David Mulford, Burns stressed that as a sovereign country, India was obviously going to safeguard its national interests and Washington respected it. He also said that there is variety of views on the subject of civilian nuclear energy cooperation with India and Mulford was only pointing to what Capitol Hill's thinking on the matter is.
"There is no question that many members of Congress, including senior members of some of the relevant committees in Congress that look at foreign affairs, have made their views very clear on the Iran issue. And I think Ambassador Mulford was simply trying to indicate that the other day," Burns said.
On what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had meant by 'difficult choices', Burns said some difficulty in negotiations between the United States and India stemmed from the fact that this civilian nuclear energy cooperation was a 'unique' arrangement; the definition of civilian and military facilities and the separation plan; and the fact that this ambitious plan must find the seal of approval from the United States Congress and the Nuclear Supplier's Group.
"So I think that is an accurate assessment of where we are. I think we have made a lot of progress over the last six months. I was not discouraged by my talks in Delhi last week. One assumes that things like this that are so, frankly, esoteric and complex, take time and we are committed to conclude this deal with the Indian Government," he said.