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Main US negotiator says India inaction threatens 2008 nuclear agreement decision

Main US negotiator says India inaction threatens 2008 nuclear agreement decision

The chief U.S. negotiator of a groundbreaking civilian nuclear agreement with India said Thursday that India must hurry and make a "courageous decision" to endorse the pact or it will be impossible for it to be completed this year.
That would mean the agreement could not come into force before President George W. Bush leaves office on Jan. 20. Bush considers the agreement a major accomplishment of his administration.
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said in his final news conference before his retirement next week that a dispute within the coalition of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is putting at risk an agreement that is in the interests of both countries.
"I'm afraid it's time for the government to decide. We hope the decision will be positive," Burns said.
"If India is to be given this great victory, which is so clearly in the Indian national interest, there has to be a courageous decision made by the government."
India has been shunned by the world's nuclear powers since it conducted its first underground nuclear test in 1976. India also has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, another reason that has kept the country out of the global civilian nuclear network.
Burns headed the U.S. negotiating team that agreed after 2 1/2 years on the final U.S.-Indian document that would give India access to U.S. civilian nuclear technology and fuel. In exchange India would provide safeguards and allow international inspections at its 14 civilian nuclear installations. Eight self-designated military plants would remain off-limits.
The U.S. Congress has given its preliminary approval. India's vote has been barred by a communist party within Singh's coalition that fears the pact would give Washington an ability to meddle with Indian policies. Even after that clearance, the two countries must obtain an exception for India from the rules of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, countries that export nuclear material. Indian officials also must negotiate a safeguard agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"I think the Indian government is quite sincere in wanting to push this agreement forward," Burns said in his news conference.
He said, however, that "there's obviously a question of politics within the Indian coalition, and we don't want to interfere in internal affairs of the coalition in India."
Nevertheless, he said recent American visitors to India including Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates had told their hosts that "time is very short."
"Sen. Biden explained that for the U.S. Congress to make a final vote on this issue in 2008 would require the entire agreement to land on the doorstep of the Congress by May or June," he said. By that time it would have had to have been approved by both the suppliers group and the IAEA, the nuclear watchdog of the United Nations.
"There are very short timelines here," he said.
"We have been a very good friend and partner of India all along through these incredibly intense and complex three years of negotiations," he said.
"I think this will be _ has the potential to be _ one of the most significant advances for American foreign policy in this era with the creation of this new strategic partnership."


Updated : 2020-12-05 11:31 GMT+08:00