India on Tuesday said it is not looking at finalising negotiations with the US on a pact on reprocessing of spent fuel, a key step in implementation of the nuclear deal, during summit talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama here.

“As far as arrangements for reprocessing talks are concerned these are ongoing. We are not looking at finalising them tomorrow in any case,” Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao told reporters, hours ahead of Singh-Obama talks at the White House.

“This is an ongoing process, as I mentioned to you, these talks have progressed well,” Ms. Rao said when asked about the progress of the negotiations on reprocessing facilities, which many were expecting to be concluded during the summit.

There are a number of issues that are being discussed between the two sides, she said.

“Our experts have been engaged very intensively in these discussions and I am happy to report that much progress has been made and we would be finalising these issues very shortly,” Ms. Rao said.

India so far has had several rounds of negotiations with the US - the first two being in Vienna and the rest in Washington - on reprocessing agreement on spent nuclear fuel, which constitutes a significant part of the 123 agreement.

The 123 Agreement on bilateral nuclear cooperation gives New Delhi prior consent to reprocess.

However, it stipulates that this right would come into effect only when India establishes a new national facility dedicated to reprocessing safeguarded nuclear material under safeguards of IAEA and reaches an agreement with the US on “arrangements and procedures under which such reprocessing ... will take place in this new facility.”

It was on February 3 this year that the then Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon wrote to Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns, invoking the provisions of the 123 Agreement with a formal request to negotiate the “arrangements and procedures” under which American spent fuel would be reprocessed in India.

The Department of Atomic Energy also sent a similar formal request to Richard Stratford. The United States acknowledged the request.

The first round of talks were held in Vienna in the fourth week of July, during which both India and the US “surprised” each other by coming out with draft proposals.

The second round of talks were held in Vienna again in October. Rest of the talks were being held in Washington in the last couple of weeks.

While the American delegation is being led by Richard Stratford, Director of the Office of Nuclear Energy Affairs in the State Department and Washington’s point man for nuclear negotiations with India; the Indian side is headed by Ravi B Grover from the Department of Atomic Energy. Once the reprocessing agreement is concluded, the Obama Administration would send this to the Congress for approval.

Unlike, the up and down vote of the 123 Agreement; this automatically becomes law after 60 Session Days of the US Congress; unless the Congress disapproves it by a veto majority – two-thirds. This is considered to be near impossible.

So when Mr. Obama concludes a text that he is going to submit it is a fait accompli that it would become law.

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