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Nuclear deal: US not keen on more changes
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

The US is not willing to consider "any further changes" to its laws to accommodate Indian demands over the civilian nuclear deal, a State Department spokesman said on Friday.

Speaking to reporters on the eve of foreign secretary Shyam Saran's visit to Washington, Sean McCormack said the Indian Government had raised "a series of issues" in the so-called 123 Agreement negotiations concerning US laws.

He said New Delhi had suggested solutions that would require the US to change its laws. "We're not going to do that, we can't do that," McCormack said. "So we will suggest that we set aside that group of issues and let's focus on areas where the two governments can negotiate and come to agreement."

President George W. Bush's administration opened itself up to criticism in 2005 when it struck the civilian nuclear deal with India, which is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In December, 2006, the US Congress passed the "Henry J. Hyde Act for civilian nuclear cooperation with India" that required changes to the US laws to make an exception for India.

McCormack said Washington was "frustrated" by the slow pace of negotiations with India. A similar sentiment has been echoed by under secretary of state R. Nicholas Burns, the US point person on the deal.

He said the US had suggested that the two sides focused on defining the "baskets of issues" that would require changes to the US law and “put those aside.” He said negotiators should “define and work on those issues that we can actually negotiate on.”

Anupam Srivastava at the University of Georgia told The Tribune that India was seeking “consent right” to reprocess spent fuel that came from the US — “and by extension, the same rights from other Nuclear Suppliers Group members who will supply fuel to India.”

“In principle, the US government is not opposed to granting the consent right, but there are a couple of inter-related issues on which the two sides have yet to finalise their positions — and until then 123 negotiations cannot be completed,” he said.

A US source close to the talks told The Tribune that the main Indian obstacle in the path of the deal was the Department of Atomic Energy, which found it very difficult to live with the requirements of the US law.

Menon is scheduled to visit Washington early next week. He will meet Burns and the two are expected to focus on the nuclear deal and the state of negotiations. McCormack said Burns would tell Menon there was “some frustration on the part of the administration as well as the Congress on the pace of these negotiations.”

Adding to Washington’s frustration, a recent Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting in Cape Town didn’t yield the results the Bush administration had hoped for. Denying that these talks had broken down, McCormack said they just didn’t make the kind of progress that Washington had hoped for and that this matter should also be discussed with Menon.

Despite the frustration, he was optimistic that the deal would still go through. “We still have faith that we’re going to be able to get this agreement done and we believe that the Indian Government is committed to that, but we’re at a stage in these particular negotiations where we think we need to raise the level of dialogue to a political level in order to move it forward,” McCormack said.

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