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India And US Hold Talks On Landmark Nuclear Energy Pact

India has an extensive civil and military nuclear technology program that it has developed domestically with little external assistance.
by Staff Writers
New Delhi (AFP) Jun 12, 2006
Diplomats from India and the United States met in New Delhi Monday for their first high-level talks on the details of a landmark but controversial nuclear cooperation deal. "The talks, which were detailed and comprehensive, are over for the day and now the two sides will meet again on Tuesday," a US embassy official told AFP after Monday's discussions.

The agreement would give energy-starved India access to long-denied civilian nuclear technology in return for placing a majority of its nuclear reactors under international inspection.

The deal was reached in March but details have still to be hammered out.

"This is the first official negotiation on the bilateral agreement," US embassy spokesman David Kennedy said at the start of the three-day talks.

"There have been a couple of early drafts exchanged back and forth but this is the first time the two negotiating teams are sitting down in formal talks."

A team from the US State and Energy departments and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission arrived in New Delhi Sunday for the talks.

Both countries will try to work out differences over a provision that bars India from conducting atomic weapons tests, officials said.

New Delhi has objected to the condition giving the United States the legal right to halt cooperation if India tests a nuclear weapon.

The Indian Express newspaper Monday said the agreement would contain significant assurances on uninterrupted nuclear fuel supply which would allow India to stockpile fuel for the lifetime of every reactor.

"India can import fuel beyond the immediate requirement of its reactors on the grounds that it will be part of a strategic reserve," the report said.

Washington will also help negotiate an India-specific fuel supply agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

There will also be a "back-up arrangement that in case all these assurances fail, the US and India will convene a group of supplier friendly countries like Russia, Britain and France to restore supply," the report said.

In return India will accept permanent safeguards on most of its civilian atomic facilities, unlike other nuclear weapon states.

India tested nuclear weapons in 1974 and 1998 and has been banned by the United States and other countries from buying fuel for reactors and other related equipment as a result.

Once finalized, the deal will give India access to civilian nuclear technology for the first time in three decades.

The deal faces hurdles in the US Congress, which must give the green light to change the US Atomic Energy Act of 1954. That law prevents the US from trading nuclear technology with nations that are not part of nuclear treaties.

Several US lawmakers have expressed concern over the deal since India has never signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Some experts have said the agreement would not only make it harder to enforce rules against nuclear renegades Iran and North Korea, but also set a dangerous precedent for other countries with nuclear ambitions.

The two countries first announced plans to share civilian nuclear technology during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the United States in July 2005. They formalized an agreement in March when US President George W. Bush visited India.

According to US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, Washington gave New Delhi a draft of the initial agreement in March.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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