Nuclear deal: Burns to address India's concerns next month

Live Punjab News Service

New Delhi/Washington -- US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, the key pointsman for the India-US civilian nuclear deal, will be in India around mid-December to address concerns New Delhi may have after a Senate-House conference works out a common enabling bill.

Burns will call on External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and talk to officials in the ministry over the civil nuclear cooperation pact, also called the '123 agreement,' which will be the key binding document for civil nuclear commerce with the US in the future.

He may also call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and discuss India's concerns, especially those relating to testing of nuclear devices and the production of fissile materials, reliable sources told IANS.

"We will do our best to address India's concerns over certain provisions in the legislations passed by either chamber during the conference stage in early December," Burns said during a media conference call in Washington Friday.

Negotiations over a so-called "123 Agreement" -- a term for a peaceful nuclear cooperation pact with a foreign country under the conditions outlined in Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act -- between the US and India should now move forward "very, very soon," he said.

Given the overwhelming 85-12 bipartisan support to the India deal in the Senate Thursday as also an equally strong 359-68 vote for it in the House in July, Burns was hopeful that the administration would be able to address New Delhi's concerns.

India Friday gave a cautious welcome to the Senate's overwhelming approval of the nuclear bill, but said it will await the final version of the bill before drawing any conclusions.

New Delhi has also expressed concern about some provisions in the Senate bill and unpalatable references to Iran in the House version. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conveyed his hope to President George W. Bush that the bill in its final form would accommodate India's stated concerns.

Section 106 of the Senate bill prohibits the export of any equipment, materials or technology related to the enrichment of uranium, the reprocessing of spent fuel or the production of heavy water.

Section 107 requires an end-use monitoring programme to be carried out with respect to US exports and re-exports of nuclear materials, equipment and technology sold or leased to India.

Burns was hopeful that the administration would be able to address these and other concerns as it works with the Senate and House conferees charged with drafting a common bill for the full Congress to approve and send to the White House.

But for now "we are extremely pleased" and gratified the Senate approved the India deal with such a wide bipartisan majority, said Burns, describing it as the first "quarter stone of the new strategic relationship" between the two countries.

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