Indian core team leaves for 123 talks
New Delhi, July 15
Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, Department of Atomic Energy chief Anil Kakodkar and senior officials from the DAE and Ministry of External officials are part of the negotiating team, which will have intensive discussions with senior American officials over the next three days (July 16-18).
The negotiating team is carrying the UPA government’s mandate cleared at the highest level. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the US President George W Bush had a telephonic conversation that focused mainly on the nuclear deal.
New Delhi feels that if a couple of pending issues are resolved, the nuclear deal can be operationalised by this year end. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is expected to arrive here later this month for giving the much-needed political push to the 123 agreement negotiations.
If all goes as per the expectations of the two governments, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may pay a bilateral visit to the US, possibly even before the Prime Minister’s customary visit to New York for attending the United Nations General Assembly session in September.
On its part, India is going to engage Brazil and South Africa, part of the three-nation IBSA, early next week. Both Brazil and South Africa are members of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group whose nod is a must for kick-starting India’s nuclear commerce with the world. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is scheduled to hold talks with the Foreign Ministers of Brazil and South Africa here on July 17.
Meanwhile, India and the US are also poised to sign a pact under which their militaries would be able to refuel ships and aircraft in cashless transactions.
Moreover, the two countries would be able to borrow military equipment wherever this is required instead of getting it all the way from home.
The cashless transactions would be balanced at the end of the year, Lt Gen Jeffrey Kohler, director of the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency said at a briefing here yesterday.
The soon-to-be-signed pact is generally known as the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA). The arrangement has been in place for decades and was formerly known as the NATO Mutual Support Act, aimed at simplifying exchanges of logistics support, supplies and services between the US and other NATO forces. The Act was amended thrice in 1986, 1992 and 1994 to permit ACSA with non-NATO countries.
The US has similar agreements in place with more than 60 countries. The US had proposed the pact during the NDA regime but before it could come to fruition, the NDA government bowed out of office.
N-deal: Ball in US court
As a team of Indian negotiators prepares to begin crucial talks in Washington this week in the hope of clearing seemingly insurmountable hurdles in the civilian nuclear agreement, analysts say the ball is now firmly in the US court.
Anupam Srivastava at the University of Georgia noted that about 80 per cent of the language over the so-called 123 Agreement, which governs nuclear agreements between the USA and other countries, had already been agreed upon.
"Clearly the key issue now is the US response to the Government of India's offer to build a dedicated re-processing facility for the US-origin fuel (under the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards but set up in consultation with the USA to satisfy their benchmarks of safety and non-diversion)," Dr. Srivastava told The Tribune.
The facility will also remain in "continuous" safeguards as opposed to "campaign-mode," which is what New Delhi offered for other countries' fuel — although this will be negotiated between India and each supplier country, he added.
But even if President George Bush's administration accepts the Indian offer, the big question is whether Bush, whose popularity has been battered by an unpopular war in Iraq and other domestic woes, can get the necessary support for the proposal from the Democrat-controlled US Congress. That remains doubtful, said Dr. Srivastava, adding that the US officials will need to do some "heavy lifting" on Capitol Hill.
Congressional sources echoed Dr. Srivastava's skepticism and pointed out that members of Congress had already bent over backwards to pass this controversial deal in December, and would be very unwilling to make more changes to the agreement.
National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan will participate in the talks along with Department of Atomic Energy Secretary Anil Kakodkar, Foreign
Secretary Shivshankar Menon, and India's ambassadors to Singapore and the USA, S. Jaishankar and Ronen Sen, respectively. The team will meet US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns. The talks are taking place two years since the July 18, 2005, agreement was signed by Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the latter's visit to Washington.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the US officials were ready to "resolve the outstanding issues" on the 123 Agreement.
In a statement he said, "The USA understands the importance of the agreement to our relationship and the benefits it will bring to both nations. We are confident that with continued hard work, flexibility, and good spirit, we will reach a final agreement."