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Saran meets top US officials to push nuclear deal

Written by: Staff

Washington, Mar 30: Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, here on a visit as a follow-up to US President Bush's visit to India, has met top American officials to discuss the steps being taken by the two countries for the implementation of the landmark Indo-US civil nuclear deal.

The focus of the deliberations was the Bush administration's efforts to win Congressional approval of the deal and to push it through the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which regulates global trade in nuclear technology, according to State Department sources.

Mr Saran met Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and the top negotiator of the deal in the Bush administration, at a luncheon meeting yesterday.

The two officials discussed a host of bilateral issues, the nuclear deal, its progress in the Congress, regional and other issues like Iran, China, Myanmar and Central Asia, besides Nepal and Pakistan.

Mr Saran spent more than five hours at the State Department. In his meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Indian Foreign Secretary is understood to have discussed bilateral and multilateral issues, including India-Pakistan relations, the situation in Nepal, Iran and the civil nuclear cooperation.

Later in the day he also met Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert G Joseph.

Mr Saran, who arrived here on Tuesday, will speak on ''Indo-US relations: An Agenda for the Future'' at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington DC.

He will also meet US lawmakers but Congressional sources said Republican Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee Richard Lugar has declined to meet him without assigning any reasons.

The other officials, with whom the Foreign Secretary will be holding discussions on the Capitol Hill, include Chairman of the House International Relations Committee Henry Hyde, ranking Democrat on the Committee Tom Lantos, and other members of the Committee including Congressmen Gary Ackerman, Joe Wilson.

He is also slated to meet several Senators, including John Cornyn, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Bill Nelson among others.

The talks assume significance as a crucial legislation is pending before the US Congress to move the nuclear deal forward. The legislation, proposed by the Bush administration, is seeking a waiver for India under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to allow nuclear trade with the US.

However, some skeptical lawmakers want to seek more ''concrete assurances'' from Mr Saran and the Indian delegation, on India's stand on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) and on a moratorium on nuclear tests.

US critics of the new strategic partnership with India worry that the deal could ruin international efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons technology and some have even questioned the very basics of the agreement saying the exemption given to India would nullify global efforts to prevent Iran and North Korea from seeking nuclear weapons.

On the eve of crucial meetings on Capitol Hill on the Indo-US nuclear deal, Nick Burns, the chief negotiator on the deal said the Bush administration is open to ideas and suggestions from members of Congress on the agreement provided they are not deal-breakers requiring re-negotiations.

Tomorrow, Mr Saran will meet Undersecretary for Energy David Garman and Under Secretary for Commerce David H. McCormick for crucial talks on nuclear energy needs of India and the nuclear commerce with the US as envisaged in the civilian nuclear deal.

He will return to New Delhi after addressing a press conference at the Indian Embassy.


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