IAEA confirms 'progress' on agreement:India,US to talk tomorrow

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New Delhi, Mar 03 (UNI) The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today confirmed that ''considerable progress'' had been made on the negotiations with India on the Indo-US Civilian Nuclear agreement and that consultations would continue.

Responding to an e-mail inquiry about the progress made on the issue, an IAEA spokesperson, however, said the topic was not on the agenda of this week's IAEA board meeting.

''Considerable progress has been achieved during the round of negotiations about a safeguards agreement between the IAEA and India held last week in Vienna. Consultations between India and the Agency will continue,'' the spokesperson told UNI from Vienna.

''We have no further details for you at this time. This topic is not on the Agenda of this week's Board meeting,'' the spokesperson added.

India and IAEA have so far held five round of negotiations on India-specific safeguards agreement, a pre-cursor to the talks with the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) whose nod is essential for the operationalisation of the agreement.

The fifth round concluded in Vienna on Thursday.

The confirmation by the IAEA came a day before India and the United States are to hold another round of negotiations on the deal amid indications by the government that it would go ahead even as the Left warned of serious consequences.

US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher will arrive here tomorrow on a two-day visit for discussions with Indian officials on the nuclear and several other issues.

Mr Boucher, who is in charge of South Asian affairs, will have talks with Ms Gayatri Kumar, Joint Secretary in the External Affairs Ministry. ''They will review progress on implementation of the civil nuclear deal,'' sources said.

The discussions between Ms Kumar and Mr Boucher will be held in the backdrop of warnings by three influencial US Senators last month that the deal should be completed by July or else the new government in Washington would re-negotiate it.

The meeting also assumes significance in the backdrop of the government's indications that it would go ahead with the deal while the Left Parties warned against operationalising the agreement.

The sources said at the discusssions tomorrow, India would apprise the US side of the progress in negotiations with the IAEA on India-specific safeguards. Only then can the mattter be taken up with the NSG.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, in a suo motu statement in Parliament, reaffirmed the need for going ahead with the deal saying it was necessary to end India's three-decade-long isolation in the international nuclear market.

He said the UPA government would continue to seek a broad political consensus within the country to take forward the nuclear issue.

''The conclusion of such an agreement will enable the Nuclear Suppliers Group to amend its guidelines for civil nuclear commerce in favour of India. This will open the door to civil nuclear cooperation with various countries, including Russia, US, France, UK etc with many of whom the necessary enabling bilateral agreements for such trade have been discussed and are in various stages of finalisation,'' the Minister said.

However, Left parties warned of serious consequences if the deal was operationalised. ''We don't think that the government should proceed to operationalise the deal,'' CPM Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury said.

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