India-US reprocessing pact in a week: M.K. Narayanan

Port of Spain, Nov 29 ( India and the US will conclude a crucial pact on reprocessing spent fuel in a week or so, with negotiators trying to sort out the right language to accommodate each other’s concerns, India’s National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan said here.

“We have arrived at the final stage. It’s all a matter of legalese now,” Narayanan said Saturday when asked why the reprocessing pact could not be signed during the four-day visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Washington that ended Thursday.

“It will take a week or a little more to wrap it up,” Narayanan told Indian reporters at Port-of-Spain, where Manmohan Singh attended the Commonwealth summit after his Washington visit, while adding that the issue figured in discussions between Manmohan Singh and US President Barack Obama.

A day after the talks, Manmohan Singh said that the reprocessing deal will be wrapped up in two weeks.

Informed Sources told IANS that the gap between the two sides has narrowed down to just one issue of suspension of the right to reprocess in case India conducts a nuclear test or indulge in activities that may jeopardise the nuclear deal.

There were three issues that were holding up the reprocessing pact. Out of these, two issues have been resolved. The Americans have accepted India’s proposal for multiple dedicated national facilities for reprocessing spent fuel, sources said.

The second issue related to security of reprocessing facilities. The issue was resolved after India agreed to security levels followed by nuclear powers like the US.

The only issue waiting to be resolved is that of the suspension of the supply of reprocessing technologies in the event of India conducting a nuclear test.

Indian officials have made it clear to their American interlocutors that India was not ready to move away from what is outlined in the 123 civil nuclear cooperation agreement.

After labyrinthine negotiations, the US had agreed to India’s right to reprocess spent fuel. The conclusion of the reprocessing pact will effectively conclude the landmark nuclear deal that was inked by India and the US last year.

A team of senior nuclear officials led by R.B. Grover, head (technical) in the department of atomic energy, held a fourth round of talks with an American team headed by Richard Stratford, the US pointsperson for reprocessing negotiations, on the eve of Manmohan Singh’s talks with Obama in Washington.

Under the 123 bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement inked by India and the US last year, the two sides had agreed to conclude an agreement for the finalisation of arrangements and procedures for India to reprocess spent fuel under a dedicated national facility under international safeguards.

The conclusion of the reprocessing pact, a key US commitment under the 123 agreement, will finally set anxieties in India at rest about the commitment of the Obama administration to the nuclear deal, which formed the showpiece of the India-US engagement during the Bush administration.

With the reprocessing deal out of the way, the only step left to operationalise the nuclear deal will be the approval of a civil liability legislation by India that seeks to limit damages to American nuclear companies operating in India from compensation claims in case of nuclear accidents.

The cabinet has cleared the civil liability legislation. Manmohan Singh said Wednesday that the parliament will take up the legislation in its ongoing session.