August 25, 2008 / 12:57 PM / 11 years ago

India and U.S. begin reworking draft nuclear deal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The United States and India began reworking a draft agreement to win approval from a global nuclear trade bloc that has been skeptical of the two nations’ proposed civilian nuclear deal, officials said on Monday.

Activists from the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-ML) hold placards to protest against India's possible civilian nuclear deal with the United States during a demonstration in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad August 20, 2008. REUTERS/Amit Dave

A 45-nation meeting on whether to lift a ban on nuclear trade with India ended inconclusively last week after many members wanted to attach conditions, like trying to ban further nuclear tests by the Asian power.

The deal would allow India access to nuclear technology and fuel, overturning a three-decade ban on trade after India tested nuclear weapons in 1974.

The countries in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) will meet again on September 4-5, when the United States is expected to rework the draft for a waiver breaking the nuclear trade embargo.

“The ball has been set rolling,” an Indian foreign ministry official said when asked if the two countries had begun reworking the draft. “Our foreign secretary is in the U.S. and the two delegations have been meeting.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher met Indian officials on Monday but refused to answer questions on what changes were likely in the U.S. draft.

He hinted last week that the two sides were open to accommodating some changes in the draft so long as they did not impede the bilateral pact.

Washington says it was committed to getting the draft past the NSG as soon as possible.

“The United States and India will continue our vigorous joint advocacy for the initiative at the highest levels of NSG government,” David C. Mulford, U.S. Ambassador to India, said.

Diplomats say conditions tabled at the NSG included intrusive U.N. inspections of Indian civilian nuclear sites; cancellation of any waiver if India tests bombs again; and periodic reviews of Indian compliance with the exemption.

India says it will not agree to any conditions to get an NSG approval.

Sensitive to leftist charges that closer ties with the United States will undo its strategic autonomy, New Delhi has insisted on a “clean and unconditional” waiver from the NSG.

“We will continue to work with our Indian partners to persuade the Nuclear Suppliers Group countries that such an exemption is in the international community’s best interest,” Mulford said.

The bilateral deal has disturbed pro-disarmament nations and campaigners since India is outside the global Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and developed nuclear bombs in the 1970s with Western technology imported ostensibly for peaceful ends.

Time is running out on the bilateral deal which still has to reach the U.S. Congress for ratification by early September at the latest before the house breaks for the November U.S. presidential election.

Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Paul Tait

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