06/04/2007, 00.00
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Considerable progress but nuclear deal still elusive

Three days of talks in New Delhi fail to solve all problems, thus preventing an agreement on the transfer of nuclear technology and material. The United States wants control over how India will dispose of spent nuclear fuel, but India is against foreign interference.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The United States and India have not yet agreed on the terms of a nuclear co-operation agreement, but both countries are still optimistic that a deal can be reach. Should an agreement be reached India would be able to quench its thirst for energy and the United States would gain a valuable ally in the new emerging Asia.

Three days of talks in New Delhi between India’s Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns "have made considerable progress” but problems remain.

The two parties had "useful discussions,” Mr Burns said. However, he added that “[w]hile there has been good co-operation, more work remains to be done,” insisting that “[w]e look forward to a final agreement as it is indisputably in the interest of both governments."

Dr Singh is expected to discuss the nuclear deal with Mr Bush when they meet on the sidelines of a G8 summit in Germany this week.

Energy poor India wants fissile material and technology from the United States to develop its civilian nuclear programme. Washington is ready to strike a deal if New Delhi opens its facilities to international inspections something the Indians have rejected so far. India has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Experts note that the key sticking points are US opposition to India reprocessing spent nuclear fuel and carrying out more nuclear tests. For its part, India rejects any limits to its sovereignty

An agreement in principle was concluded in March 2006 during US President George W. Bush’s visit to India but the details of implementation remain to be worked out.

Both governments are under heavy pressure to refuse further concessions. Critics in the United States warn that the deal might encourage a nuclear arms race and would be a sign of weakness vis-à-vis countries like Iran with nuclear programmes of their own which Washington opposes.

For other analysts, co-operation between the United States and the newly-emerging powerhouse of India is crucial to counter China’s economic and political rise. They point out that India needs energy no matter what and could easily get it by building an oil pipeline to Iran via Pakistan, something that Washington does not want.

A recent report by the International Labour Organisation for the Association of South-East Asian nations (ASEAN) highlighted how China and India are leading the region by raising their productivity levels (+ 63.4 and 26.9 per cent respectively) thanks to the net inflow of foreign investment and new technologies.

India has 14 reactors in commercial operation and nine under construction. Nuclear power supplies about 3 per cent of India's electricity but the goal is to reach 25 per cent. India has limited coal and uranium reserves but its huge thorium reserves represent about 25 per cent of the world's total.

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