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Burns Postpones India Visit Indefinitely As Nuke Deal Heads South

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by Sudhakar Jagdish
New Delhi (ANI) May 23, 2007
US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns will not be visiting India in 'near future' to help conclude the bilateral 123-Agreement, which would have ratified the 'historical' civil nuclear energy cooperation. Burns, who was expected to reach Delhi this weekend, has 'postponed his visit indefinitely' at the last moment, which has signalled that the bilateral agreement has hit a rough patch.

"The US Assistant Secretary of State is not coming to India now," informed US embassy spokesperson David Kennedy.

However, both the US and the Indian Foreign Ministry officials are refusing to term it as 'cancellation of visit'.

"No question of cancellation of the visit arises, as there was no schedule of the visit," said an official of Ministry of External Affairs.

However, sources from both the sides agree that there are certain issues regarding the 123-agreement that need to be ironed out.

US sources have indicated that until there is 'substantial' progress on the final shape of the nuclear deal, Burns may keep himself away from Delhi.

The postponement of Burns' visit comes a day after External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee assured Parliament that the final shape of the nuclear deal will adhere to the July 18, 2005 civilian nuclear cooperation and March 2, 2006 separation plan agreed between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George Bush.

On May 1, Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon reached Washington in an effort to take forward the civilian nuclear energy co-operation agreement and help in removing the stumbling blocks on three counts - India's right to reprocess spent fuel, its ability to conduct a future nuclear test, and US' concern over growing 'strategic' relationship between New Delhi and Tehran.

Though the visit was termed 'successful' and it was stated that Burns would visit to Delhi this weekend to fine tune the 123 agreement, the postponement is seen to indicate that the 'sticking points' still persist.

Indian and US officials have been meeting regularly over this issue since January and have also interacted on the sidelines of several multilateral meetings like the recently concluded meeting of Nuclear Suppliers Group members at the South African capital Cape Town.

At Cape Town, US Director of Nuclear Energy, Safety and Security Richard Stratford and India's envoy in Singapore S. Jaishankar held discussions, but both sides stuck to their respective stands.

While India is keen to see US leaving some scope for negotiations in the fallout of New Delhi conducting a future nuclear test, rather than bringing the agreement to an abrupt end to it, the US had been reluctant to do so.

The US administration has not paid heed to New Delhi's concern of not being able to reprocess the spent fuel. The latter wants the reprocessing issue to be mentioned in the 123-Agreement but Washington wants to postpone it to future negotiations.

New Delhi's green signal to the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline and its 'growing military ties' with Iran - as indicated in the letter written by US Senators to the Prime Minister recently -- is perceived by Washington as an irritant to the successful conclusion of the deal.

Burns had indicated impatience with Indian efforts to finalise the agreement in a recent article in the Washington Post: "We hope India will move quickly to help us complete a final bilateral agreement (Nuclear Deal) to make this a reality."

He had also termed the deal as a "symbolic and public centrepiece of our new partnership", and further wrote: "The US and India must take two more giant steps to achieve a global partnership--increasing co-operation in fighting terrorism and creating a stronger military partnership".

But with uncertainty hovering around the deal, much hope has been pinned on to Manmohan Singh's meeting with Bush on the sidelines of the G-8 summit in Germany between June 6 and 8.

Source: ANI Copyright 2007

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