//US mulling more nuclear talks before Bush India trip

US mulling more nuclear talks before Bush India trip

WASHINGTON, Feb 10 (Reuters) – The top U.S. negotiator on a landmark nuclear deal with India may soon visit New Delhi for talks on the troubled accord before President George W. Bush visits South Asia next month, U.S. officials said on Friday.

The deal, agreed in principle last July, would give India access to long-denied civilian nuclear technology, including fuel and reactors, and the failure to resolve serious differences would mar Bush’s trip, officials and experts say.

In exchange for access to the technology, India promised to separate its military and civilian nuclear facilities and open the civilian facilities to international inspection.

India’s powerful nuclear establishment has raised objections to a "separation plan" the Americans insist must put more facilities under international supervision.

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, the chief negotiator who was in New Delhi last month, has discussed with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice making another trip over the next week or so, but they have not made a decision, a State Department official said.

"I think that’s just the judgment that he and she have to make — is this the right time for him to go," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

Central to the debate is India’s fast breeder reactor program, which would process plutonium from spent fuel from India’s existing heavy water reactors.

The chief of India’s Department of Atomic Energy Anil Kakodar has complained that putting this program under international monitors would "shackle" his scientists and leave the country dependent on imported uranium.

The landmark accord was agreed in principle last July 18 but negotiating the details has proven tougher than many officials and experts expected. Bush and India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are both under domestic pressure to protect their respective interests.

"It’s doubtful" there will be a resolution of the issue before Bush visits New Delhi in March, a second U.S. official working on the issue told Reuters.

10 Feb 2006 23:00:02 GMT, Source: Reuters