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Updated: November 21, 2009 12:11 IST

India, U.S. trying to close differences on nuclear deal ahead of PM’s visit

Sandeep Diskhit
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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would like to see an early operationalisation of the civil nuclear deal.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would like to see an early operationalisation of the civil nuclear deal.

The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has described his forthcoming visit to Washington as one that would "renew" India's partnership with the U.S. "We are strategic partners," Dr. Singh said in an interview to The Washington Post.

India and the United States will be unable to finalise defence-related agreements during Pime Minister Manmohan Singh’s four-day visit to Washington beginning on Sunday, but are likely to sign pacts in several other areas, including counter-terrorism, renewable energy, agriculture and access to digital database on traditional knowledge.

In the nuclear sector, both sides are still trying to close their differences. An Indian negotiating team left for Washington on Thursday night to nail down the enrichment and reprocessing agreement.

The two sides will also discuss an “810 assurance letter” that is required from India committing non-transfer of U.S. nuclear technologies to third parties without which, the U.S. says, it will be difficult for its Department of Energy to issue licences to companies for setting up nuclear plants in India.

India has already smoothened the commercial side of the civil nuclear relationship, with the Union Cabinet approving the Limited Liability Bill and allocating two sites in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat for the setting up of light water reactor-based nuclear power plants by American companies.

Highly places sources were optimistic of both sides eventually implementing all aspects of the India-U.S. civil nuclear agreement. “We are within the timeline,” but as there were complex issues involved, the expectation was that agreements might not be clinched during this visit.

In summit level talks, Dr. Singh and U.S. President Barack Obama will discuss regional and global issues of common concern with the focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Other subjects include climate change, stability of the global economy, disarmament, non-proliferation, terrorism and coordinating regional and global approaches to environment.

Noting that this was the first major standalone summit-level interaction between the new administration in the U.S. and an Indian government in its second term, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao noted that this would provide the setting to renew the partnerships in several areas and build on the economic and political initiatives of the previous U.S. administrations.

India is also keen on cooperation in agriculture, where it wants to achieve a second Green Revolution to attain food security.

It was ready to intensify collaboration to address the big challenges in health, especially because “no single society is safe even if the virus originated 1,000 miles away,” explained the Foreign Secretary.

On the defence side, she noted the slew of joint exercises and high-level interactions that are taking place, as well as the concurrence on a standard formulation of the End Use Monitoring Agreement to facilitate the sale of U.S. defence equipment to India. But both sides are “continuing to discuss” three military agreements which may not be finalised during the visit.

Ms. Rao pointed out that India would seek support from the U.S. for Permanent Membership of the U.N. Security Council and had noted Washington’s stand that new permanent members should be identified by name rather than be selected from regions.

Our New Dehi correspondent adds:

Guard of Honour for Manmohan in U.S

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be accorded a Guard of Honour on the South Lawn in the White House when he reaches Washington for the first state visit by any head of state or government under the Obama presidency. This, officials here say, is “reflective of the commitment that the U.S. attaches to its relationship with India.”

Dr. Singh will begin his engagements on Monday after arriving at the Andrew’s Air Force Base a day earlier. He will address captains of industry at an event jointly organised by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S.-India Business Council. This will be followed by a lecture, jointly organised by the Council of Foreign Relations, a conservative think tank, and the Woodrow Wilson Centre. Several top CEOs from the country are flying to Washington to be present for the event.

The Prime Minister will also meet U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. On Tuesday, he will visit the White House where he will be given a ceremonial welcome at the South Lawn, including the Guard of Honour.

Delegation-level talks between Dr. Singh and Mr. Obama will be followed by a joint media interaction. This will be followed by an interaction with CEOs after which Dr. Singh will leave for lunch, hosted by U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at the State Department.

In the evening, Mr. Obama will host Dr. Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur at an official banquet, which will also include an entertainment programme. Senior U.S. administration officials, including Secretaries of Defence, Treasury and Environment will call on the Prime Minister the next day.

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