U.S. moves to speed up Indian nuclear talks

( LatWp ) - U.S. officials, frustrated by the slow pace of negotiating final agreements with India on President Bush's deal to give it access to civil nuclear technology, have informed the Indian government that they want a major push next month to complete negotiations before the deal unravels from bureaucratic inertia and increased congressional anxiety of India's dealings with Iran.

Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shanker Menon will visit Washington on May 1 for a couple of days of negotiations. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns will visit India later in the month to try to wrap up the agreement.

``There is a strong sense of frustration in Washington, in the administration and in Congress, about the fact that the Indian side has progressed so slowly in this effort. We urge it to accelerate its efforts,'' Burns said Thursday. ``The bottom line is that we are committed to this deal. We do not question the goodwill of the Indian government, and I believe we will overcome the problems we are encountering.''

Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to the pact in July 2005, then agreed to an implementation plan in March 2006. Now the two sides are negotiating language to comply with a congressional bill passed last year that would permit changes in U.S. law to allow for the nuclear sales, even though India never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Many nuclear experts condemned the agreement as weakening efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, but the Bush administration billed the deal as necessary to build close relations with India.

The deal has stirred controversy in India as well, particularly from leftist parties in Singh's coalition and from India's homegrown nuclear industry, which does not want to undergo International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. U.S. officials suspect that India has made certain demands, such as retaining the right to test nuclear weapons. The congressional bill said nuclear cooperation could be suspended if India conducted a test, and some Indian analysts argue that the congressional bill changed the nature of the deal.

The deal faces other hurdles, including approval by an international consortium that controls nuclear exports, India's reaching a separate agreement with U.N. inspectors, and then a final vote in Congress. The delays have given hope to agreement opponents, who have seized on reports of India-Iranian military cooperation and an indictment last month charging that Indian government agencies conspired to obtain secret weapons technology from U.S. companies.

``India's stealing of U.S.-controlled technology, its formal military-to-military cooperation with Iran, and its rejection of U.S. nonproliferation conditions on nuclear cooperation are what you would expect of an adversary, not a partner,'' said Henry D. Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, a nonprofit organization.

The indictment suggested the Indian government violated a pledge made in 2004 that it would not try to avoid U.S. export control laws and regulations. The indictment listed an unnamed Indian Embassy official as an unidentified co-conspirator. An Indian Embassy spokesman has not returned calls on the matter for several weeks.

The case has raised alarms and anger in Congress, with a number of letters circulating among lawmakers to express their dismay.

Administration officials will not discuss the indictment but argue that India is actually building closer ties with the U.S. military. ``All of our allies, every single one, have diplomatic relations with Iran,'' said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to speak more freely. ``It does not have substantial military contacts with Iran.''

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