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US Cites Progress in Talks on Nuclear Deal With India


Bush administration officials are reporting progress in getting the landmark U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation accord past another major hurdle. The international Nuclear Suppliers Group, the NSG, is considering the agreement in Vienna. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Administration officials say they are making headway in what has become a race against time to get the U.S. Indian nuclear accord into effect by the time President Bush leaves office in January.

Mr. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Monmohan Singh agreed on the basic framework of the accord in 2005. It would lift the long-standing U.S. embargo on nuclear trade with India in return for India - a declared nuclear weapons state - opening civilian nuclear facilities to international inspections.

The deal has been controversial in both countries, with critics contending it undercuts global non-proliferation efforts. U.S. supporters argue it would open a largely-secret Indian program to international scrutiny and clear the way to lucrative bilateral nuclear commerce.

It still requires final U.S. Congressional approval, but before that can happen, the 45-nation NSG must approve a U.S.-requested waiver ending a 34-year-old ban on nuclear trade with India.

The NSG held an inconclusive meeting on the issue last month. The State Department sent its third-ranking official, Undersecretary for Political Affairs William Burns, to this week's round of talks to try to resolve members' concerns about the package.

Burns said in Vienna he believes steady progress is being made within the NSG, which held several hours of meetings on the issue Thursday and will continue talks on Friday.

In comments here, State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood said he was aware of no insurmountable problem within the NSG. He also rejected published suggestions the Bush administration tried to keep terms of the nuclear deal secret to help get the package through the Indian parliament.

A key U.S. Congressman, Democrat Howard Berman, earlier this week made public a nine-month-old confidential letter from the State Department assuring him the deal would be scuttled if India conducted a nuclear test.

That appeared to contradict assurances Prime Minister Singh gave to the Indian parliament that the agreement does not constrain India's right to stage a future test.

Spokesman Wood insisted there was no effort to conceal terms and that the basic accord with India - the so-called 123 agreement - assumes a continuation of India's decade-old nuclear test moratorium:

"Certainly India's obligations under the 123 agreement are very clear, and that the Indians have agreed to a moratorium on testing," said 123 agreement. "And we expect that they will adhere to that commitment."

The lengthy document make no specific mention of Indian testing but gives both sides broad leeway in terminating the accord because of changed security conditions.

Without swift approval by the NSG, the U.S. Congress may run out of time for final action on the India deal before it adjourns at the end of this month for the fall election campaign.

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