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US, India, Report Progress in Nuclear Talks


The State Department reports progress in talks with India on a nuclear agreement and says a senior U.S. envoy will go to India later this month to try to complete a deal. Long-running efforts to reach a landmark accord on nuclear cooperation had been stalled. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here say Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns will travel to India in the latter half of this month with the aim of concluding an agreement after a set of talks produced extensive progress.

First proposed nearly two years ago, the cooperation deal would reverse years of U.S. policy and allow American companies to sell and share civilian nuclear technology, even though India has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the NPT.

The planned agreement was hailed as a break-through in U.S.-Indian relations, but negotiations became bogged down over details amid mutual finger-pointing and criticism.

A U.S. statement issued late Tuesday after Undersecretary Burns completed two days of meetings with Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said the Bush administration is encouraged by the progress and looks forward to resolving the outstanding issues in the weeks ahead.

Only hours before, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack had suggested the entire process was at a crossroads. "We are confident that the Indian side is ready to work in good faith to get an agreement, that we will get one done, and that it's going to require some creativity and compromise on both sides in order to get an agreement done, if we're going to be able to move this as quickly as we would have hoped. We're at a point now where we're going to see whether or not the agreement can be moved forward quickly or not," he said.

Under the envisaged framework, India would get access to U.S. civilian nuclear technology and fuel, but would have to open its civilian nuclear facilities to international inspection. Its military facilities would remain off-limits to inspectors.

Problem issues were understood to have included an Indian insistence that it retain the right to conduct nuclear tests, and to reprocess spent reactor fuel.

Key elements of the accord were approved by Congress late last year and signed into law by President Bush, but Congress must still ratify final terms of a deal.

The proposed arrangement has been controversial in both countries.

American critics say the Bush administration weakened the traditional U.S. stand against nuclear proliferation just to cultivate favor with India.

Indian opponents say the deal will compromise the country's nuclear independence.

India, which lacks large uranium reserves, has fourteen nuclear power plants in operation and is building nine others in a drive to have 25 per cent of its electricity generated by nuclear energy.

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