High-level talks in the last leg, says Manmohan

Washington: Keen to conclude the civil nuclear deal at the earliest, India and the United States on Wednesday held high-level talks to iron out differences amid Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assertion that the negotiations were in the “last leg”.

National Security Adviser M K Narayanan held parleys with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice besides his counterpart Stephen Hadley to push the talks that have got stuck due to differences on the issues like reprocessing and India’s right to conduct nuclear test in future.

“The atmospherics were excellent,” a source told PTI after the meeting with Rice and ahead of one-on-one discussions between Mr. Narayanan and Mr. Hadley on the 123 agreement, that will operationalise the civil nuclear deal.

Both sides committed to deal

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said a deal was within reach and that “We believe with the commitment from both sides that we can bridge the differences.”

Constructive approach, says McCormack

Mr. McCormack stressed that Washington was willing to work in a “constructive manner” to get the deal done and this was also the case as far as the Indian negotiators were concerned.

“We’re going to take stock of where we are in negotiating the so-called 123 agreement. This is a serious, high-level delegation. And it will really to try to make a push to get this agreement over the finish line. There are a couple of tough issues that we have left to resolve. We believe that we can get a deal; we can get an agreement,” Mr. McCormack said.

“I think it really comes down to a matter of timing. When is that going to get done? This meeting will provide us a good indicator as to the answer to that question. When can we get that deal done?,” the spokesman added.

Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and his United States counterpart Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns are also part of the two delegations holding crucial discussions here.

Several rounds of talks on the 123 agreement have failed to yield any result due to differences on the issues like reprocessing right for India and future of the deal if New Delhi were to conduct a nuclear test.

“Trying to push”

As officials met here, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in New Delhi that the negotiations were in the “last leg” but refused to predict by when the agreement would be firmed up.

“We are in last leg of negotiations,” he told reporters when asked about the status of the talks on 123 agreement.

The Bush administration expressed confidence that both India and the United States were going to try to “make a push” to finalise the 123 agreement but the question was one of timing. — PTI