Sun, Jul 22, 2007 - Page 7 News List

US and India make headway in civil nuclear meetings

STRATEGIC PARTNERS Talks between the nations were scheduled for two days, but stretched to four, indicating progress in reaching an agreement

AP , WASHINGTON

India and the US said they have neared completion on a crucial agreement on a civil nuclear deal after four days of talks.

A joint US-Indian statement issued on Friday said: "We will now refer the issue to our governments for final review."

An agreement would be a significant step forward for the deal which has been portrayed by the Bush administration as a landmark strategic partnership with a rising power in the Asian region.

Several steps would remain, however, including approval by US lawmakers, before nuclear trade between the countries could begin.

A spokesman for the Indian Embassy, Rahul Chhabra, would not elaborate on the talks.

The statement released by both sides gave no details. "The text of the agreement has not yet been finalized," Chhabra said.

EXTENDED MEETINGS

Senior negotiators had been expected this week to have two days of talks, ending on Wednesday, but the meetings were extended.

According to US officials, the extension of the talks indicated goodwill and progress between the two nations.

Late last year, Congress approved a proposal to ship US civilian nuclear fuel to India, a top priority for President George W. Bush. Negotiators are now working to settle technical details on an overall cooperation plan.

Talks on the plan have dragged on longer than either side had predicted, which has caused frustration among officials of both countries.

A major sticking point has been US reluctance to allow India to reprocess spent atomic fuel, a crucial step in the pro-cess of making weapons-grade nuclear material.

ARMS RACE

Some fear that such an allowance would spark a nuclear arms race in Asia by allowing India to use the extra nuclear fuel that the deal would provide to free up its domestic uranium for weapons.

Several hurdles still must be cleared. The two countries must obtain an exception for India from the rules of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an assembly of nations that export nuclear material.

SAFEGUARD

Indian officials also must negotiate a safeguard agreement with the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

A final deal would mean US civilian nuclear trade with India would be allowed in exchange for safeguards and UN inspections at India's 14 civilian nuclear plants. However, eight of the nation's military plants would be off-limits.

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