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S Asia experts say credible nuclear separation plan necessary

By Staff
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Washington, Feb 22 (UNI) Prominent South Asia experts in America are upbeat about the Indo-US relationship but strongly feel that India must come up with a "credible, defensible and transparent" plan for the separation of its civilian and military nuclear facilities for the historic nuclear deal between the two countries to pass muster with the US Congress and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

"The changes in the Indo-US relationship are absolutely stunning," Ms Teresita Schaffer, Director of the South Asia Programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) told UNI, days ahead of President George Bush's three-day state visit to India beginning March 1.

"I am optimistic. The reason is that I think that what is happening for the last ten years shows that both countries have shared interests. That gives us a very solid foundation to build on," she said.

"This relationship is going to move forward on a dozen different fronts," Mr Michael Krepon, Co-Founder of the Henry L Stimson Centre in the US capital said.

He was referring to the several areas of cooperation agreed upon by the two countries in the Joint Statement issued by them after the historic summit meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here on July 18 last year.

"Some fronts will move faster than the others. We will move ahead on the nuclear front, too. We have already started to move forward together because India has gained entry into the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) Project," he said.

But, in the context of the sharp criticism that the nuclear deal, the center-piece of the July 18 accord, had evoked in both countries, Ms Schaffer and Mr Krepon felt India would have to take some hard decisions and come up with a credible plan for the separation of its civil and military nuclear facilities as stipulated in the deal.

Differences have arisen between the US and India over the separation issue and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns is due to hold talks with Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran in New Delhi on Thursday and Friday in a last minute effort to iron them out before Mr Bush arrives on his first visit to the region that will also take him to Pakistan.

Ms Schaffer had a 30-year career in the US Foreign Service before joining the CSIS in 1998. From 1989 to 1992, she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, at that time the senior South Asia position in the department. She was Ambassador to Sri Lanka and has also served in Delhi, Islamabad and Dhaka.

Mr Krepon has previously worked at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency during the Carter Administration. He teaches in the Politics Department at the University of Virginia.

Ms Schaffer pointed out that there were many people in the US, especially the non-proliferation lobby, who were sceptical about the deal, just as there was opposition to it in India, though for different reasons. "But I am in favour of the deal," she said.

According to her, the deal, if it goes through, would remove the largest symbol of what "people in India call nuclear apartheid." "The US will finally begin treating India's nuclear programme in a normal way," she pointed out.

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