ashington, Feb 28: With India and the United States (US) working overtime to find a consensus on the civilian nuclear deal by the time President Bush arrives in New Delhi on March 1, US official said that even if both sides fail to resolve their differences, cooperation in several other major areas, like defense and business, would continue to seal the 'strategic relationship' between Washington and New Delhi.
President Bush leaves Washington today (Feb 28, 2006) on his maiden trip to New Delhi, hopeful of clinching the nuke deal to bolster bilateral cooperation on civilian nuclear energy.
The ongoing negotiations on the deal have hit a snag over the separation of civil and military nuclear reactors, a plan that India has to offer in order for the Bush administration to take the deal before the US Congress for approval and making necessary changes in the existing laws to allow India to get the sensitive civilian nuclear technology that it currently cannot.
India's refusal to place its fast breeder reactors under international safeguards has become a sticking point in the complex negotiations.
When this issue was raised at a briefing White House press secretary Scott McClellan refused to be drawn into the details of the negotiations, saying that there are complex issues to be settled. But he expressed confidence that the US-India nuke deal would be done, either before or during the trip.
"We will have to see. But we believe it will get done. It's an important agreement. But these are complex issues that we are dealing with here and they have been ongoing for some time. And we'll see where they lead," he said.
Mr McClellan said first of all, our relationship with India is much broader than the civilian nuclear programme that we are talking about. There has been some progress that has been made in those negotiations.
The talks are stated to be at a delicate stage and bogged down in disagreements over which of India nuclear facilities are to be designated civilian and which are to be identified as military.
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, who is the lead negotiator on the US side returned to Washington after two days of intense talks to find a solution, apparently to apprise the Bush administration officials on it.
To a question on whether he was trying to lower expectations that it will get done, the White House spokesman said, "I think I'm trying to put it in perspective that we have a very broad relationship with India. It's one that the President has been strongly committed to from day one. And we have worked to strengthen that relationship. India is a strategic partner and we work together on a number of issues across the board, whether it's the war on terrorism or expanding economic opportunity and prosperity or other issues. We have a strong relationship. And the President has talked about that in some of the interviews."
Mr McClellan also explained how President Bush believes this is a practical way to address a couple of issues.
"One is the issue of energy and the need for that energy. And so expanding our nuclear cooperation on civilian programs with India is important to addressing that important need. This will not only address energy needs for India, but it will also address important proliferation issues, as well," said McClellan.