The Obama Administration has sought an “assurance” from India on nuclear non-proliferation to take forward the Indo-US civilian nuclear trade between them.

The Indian “assurance” is now being considered as a “proximate obstacle” to Indo-US civilian nuclear trade as Americans in knowledge of the talks on this critical issue have metaphorically termed New Delhi’s response as “India is not picking up the phone“.

In the absence of such an “assurance” letter from India, the PTI has been informed that the US Department of Energy would not be able to issue the mandatory license -- called Part 810 (pronounced Part eight ten) -- to American companies for doing any kind of civilian nuclear trade with the country.

Part 810 -- refers to the process set forth in 10 Code of Federal Regulations Part 810. Under the section 57.b of the US Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended, and in accordance with established procedures, only the Secretary of Energy is authorised to give permission, directly or indirectly, to persons or companies in the production of special nuclear material outside the US.

This provision applies to technology transfers and technical assistance to all activities of the nuclear fuel-cycle, including non-power reactors.

It is understood that Obama Administration had written a letter to the Manmohan Singh Government in February; around the same time when 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.

Such a letter from Obama Administration is believed to have taken the Indian officials by surprise, who then argued the necessity of another document from India in which it would give assurance to the US that technology transfer and technical assistance to India by the US companies under the 123 agreement would meet its nuclear non-proliferation standards.

“The first response from India was assurances! What assurances? We gave them to you. Do not ask us for any more,” a source familiar with the development told PTI.

It was only in July when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to India that the issue came up in a big way at a senior level.

As a result, the issue since then is being discussed by the same team from both the sides, who are holding negotiations on reprocessing the nuclear spent fuel by India as per the provisions of the 123 agreement.

At Vienna meeting on July 22, Director of the Office of Nuclear Energy Affairs in State Department and Washington’s point man for nuclear talks with India Richard Stratford gave the Indian team copies of assurances from countries including China and Germany that have been provided to it.

The issue is also believed to have been raised by Energy Secretary Steven Chu during his recent visit to New Delhi.

Nuclear companies in the US, who are keen to do civilian nuclear trade with India, have been told by the Department of Energy that they can’t be issued the mandatory Part 810 license for India; unless it receives the assurance from the Manmohan Singh Government.

At a time when companies from France and Russia are going ahead, US companies are increasingly becoming anxious as they are not able to get the necessary license from the Department of Energy.

In a presentation to US companies last year Jo Anna Sallen from the Office of International Regimes and Agreements of the Department of Energy, which issues such licenses, listed out the requirement for Part 810.

The main factors considered in Part 810 review are technical, political, economic, proliferation, and national security significance of proposed assistance; agreement for Nuclear Cooperation (123 Agreement); IAEA full scope safeguards/additional protocol (or equivalent) and other non-proliferation controls and conditions which includes government assurances and reporting requirements