NEW DELHI: Although a nuclear deal between US and India is a wrap, the wheels are moving at a grinding slow pace on implementing the deal, with the US dithering on starting negotiations for the reprocessing agreement.
Government sources said civil nuclear issues occupied a large part of the discussions between William Burns and foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon on Wednesday. It’s likely they will come up for talks again when Burns meets NSA M K Narayanan on Thursday.
Negotiations for a reprocessing agreement is yet to start, because Washington, Indian officials said, was yet to set a date. India is insistent that a reprocessing deal is absolutely necessary for the nuclear deal to be meaningful. The deal said negotiations would start within six months of the signing of the agreement, but the US is yet to do so. The newly nominated US undersecretary of state for arms control, Ellen Tauscher, told the US Senate at her confirmation hearing that negotiations would start before August 2. In her hearing, she even promised that the entire process of implementing the deal would be completed a year from that date. Given the present pace, there is some scepticism here, and it’s not clear whether US tardiness is just bureaucratic or deliberate.
Indian public and private entities seeking to reap early harvests from the deal have complained that around a score of licenses for nuclear and conventional dual use technologies and equipment are hanging fire with the US administration. The nuclear deal transferred dual-use licensing from presumptions of denial to presumptions of approval — but from all accounts, the Obama administration is yet to approve. Sources here said it would help if a political statement of intent from the top levels of the US government were sent down the system.
Sanctions and bans remain on Indian entities by the US despite the deal, these haven’t yet been lifted.
Just as a sign of how long things can take between the two countries, a technology safeguards agreement (TSA) allowing India to launch spacecraft with US components is yet to be signed, though officials on both sides expected it to be signed on Thursday. This agreement has taken years of painful negotiations and has had to be delinked from a commercial space launch agreement (CSLA) which is still to be negotiated, but could be a boost for India’s civilian space sector.
US sources said India should quickly name sites for US reactors and make them public. India had, in a letter of intent by the foreign secretary, told the US that it would buy reactors with a minimum of 10,000 Mwe of new power generating capacity from US companies. This was given to the US on September 10, 2008. Whether the reprocessing negotiations should precede the naming of sites or vice-versa is not yet clear.
For its part, India needs to take steps to formalise the safeguards agreement with the IAEA by submitting a separation plan, as well as sign up to the CSC convention. The convention for supplementary compensation on nuclear damage has been agreed to by India and is necessary, say officials, to enable US firms to participate in the civil nuclear sector in India. International nuclear firms, led by US companies, have been lobbying hard for India to adopt the convention under the IAEA. The global treaty allocates legal responsibility with the installing state and company for compensating nuclear damage caused by a nuclear incident.