The State Department says its third-ranking official, William Burns,
will head the U.S. team in critical talks later this week in Vienna on
India's nuclear program. The 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, the
NSG, must approve a key element of the landmark U.S. Indian nuclear
cooperation accord. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State
The decision to send Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Burns to the NSG meeting, normally a working-level forum, reflects the urgency of the Bush administration effort to get final approval for the Indian nuclear deal by the end of the year.
The nuclear accord reached by President Bush and Indian President Monmohan Singh in 2005 would give New Delhi access to U.S. civilian nuclear technology despite its nuclear weapons program, while opening non-military Indian nuclear sites to international inspections.
But before the U.S. Congress can give the deal final approval, it had to be cleared by both the International Atomic Energy Agency and the NSG, which governs global trade in reactors and nuclear fuel.
The IAEA gave its assent to an inspections plan early last month. But an NSG meeting two weeks ago ended inclusively with several member countries demanding changes to insure that Indian access to nuclear markets would not enhance its weapons program.
The United States will submit a revised plan to the NSG when it reconvenes Thursday and officials here say Burns and State Department arms control chief John Rood, who will both attend the Vienna meeting, have been lobbying reluctant countries to support it.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack declined to forecast approval of the revised draft but said U.S. officials strongly believe it merits NSG support. "We've talked to a lot of those very states. I'm not going to name names. But we've talked to a lot of them and they've announced themselves publicly what their concerns are. We have made, without getting into a lengthy discussion about it, the assessment that this is in our interest, and it's in the interests of India to develop civilian nuclear energy while providing some assurances regarding non-proliferation activities," he said.
Without early NSG approval, the U.S. Congress may run out of time for final ratification of the India deal before it adjourns at the end of this month for the November election campaign.
If the House and Senate do not act before then, the deal faces an uncertain future in the next Congress, which may be more solidly controlled by Democrats critical of an arrangement they say undercut U.S. non-proliferation policy.
Administration officials, who contend the deal means increased scrutiny of the Indian nuclear program, say failure to act would mean lucrative nuclear deals with India going to firms in Russia and France rather than the United States.