Nuclear trade between India and the USA is inching closer after four days of meetings culminated in a finalized bilateral agreement for nuclear cooperation, also known as the 123 Agreement. The content of the agreement was kept under wraps as it was passed to the governments of the respective countries for final review. The Indian government promptly approved the agreement on 25 July.
The meetings, held 17-20 July in Washington DC, involved high-ranking US and Indian officials as well as the main protagonists, US undersecretary of state for political affairs, Nicholas Burns, and Indian foreign secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon. Other notable contributors were Indian national security advisor M K Narayanan, and from the US, Vice President Dick Cheney, secretary of state Condoleeza Rice, secretary of defence Robert Gates and national security advisor Stephen Hadley. Anil Kakodkar, India's atomic energy chairman, is reported to have been closely involved in working out the technical details.
A joint US-India press statement described the discussions as "positive and constructive," making "substantial progress" in the outstanding issues in the 123 Agreement. "Both the United States and India look forward... to the conclusion of this historic initiative," the statement noted.
US companies have not been able to participate in nuclear trade with India since the early 1970s because of India's status as a non-signatory to the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but the US government opened the door through the so-called Hyde Act of December 2006. Since then, the 123 Agreement has been a major sticking point to the opening of nuclear trade between the two countries. The major obstacles to the agreement have been India's rights to reprocess used nuclear fuel and to conduct future nuclear weapons tests. The decision not to reveal the contents of the 30-page agreement has led to press speculation that some political maneuvering remains to be done.
The Indian cabinet's committees on security and political affairs jointly met on 25 July and approved the agreement. The cabinet must now discuss the document details with left-wing and opposition parties before submitting it for parliament's approval. Foreign Minister Pranab Makherjee said that "all concerns of India have been reflected and have been adequately addressed."
With President Bush's term as US President scheduled to end in January 2009, and India's government, led by Manmohan Singh, facing general elections in summer 2009, both administrations would like to achieve a final agreement. Once president Bush's administration approves the deal, as it is expected to do, it must once again get Congressional approval.
In addition, India must negotiate a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN body that oversees nuclear safeguards, and obtain approval from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
US-India joint press statement
WNA's Nuclear Power in India information paper
WNA's US Nuclear Power Industry information paper
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