Top United States diplomat meets Indian officials

The United States and India pressed ahead Friday with talks on a landmark deal for Washington to share civilian nuclear technology with New Delhi, as a top U.S. diplomat and Indian officials met for a second day. Iran's atomic program was also on the agenda.

After nearly a half-century of Cold War estrangement, India and the United States have grown closer in recent years, their relationship buoyed by expanding economic ties.

The nuclear pact, signed in July, has emerged as a centerpiece of the new relationship, and U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns was working out details of the agreement with Indian officials at the talks in New Delhi, which began Thursday.

"It's not easy, it's quite challenging and complex, but it is an agreement that is in the interest of both our countries," Burns said Wednesday at the start of his South Asian tour.

The deal marks a major policy shift for the United States, which imposed sanctions on India in 1998 after it conducted nuclear tests. The restrictions have since been lifted.

Under the deal, Washington is to share civilian nuclear technology and supply nuclear fuel to India in return for New Delhi separating its civilian and military nuclear programs and allowing international inspections of its atomic facilities.

Burns called the separation "an enormously complex task and that is at the heart of the negotiations."

Burns was also discussing with Indian officials a planned visit to India later this year by U.S. President George W. Bush, said an American official who asked not to be identified because the talks had not finished.

Despite warming relations between New Delhi and Washington, key differences remain, especially over India's strong ties with Iran.

The United States and other nations are pressing to have the Islamic republic sanctioned by the international community for its nuclear program, which fears Tehran will use to build atomic weapons. Burns said Iran would become a pariah state over its nuclear activities and suggested countries such as India reconsider their relationship with Tehran.

"All of us need to think about our relationship with Iran," he said. India, which has few domestic sources of fuel, plans to build a 2,800-kilometer (1,750-mile) gas pipeline from Iran through Pakistan, reports the AP.

D.M.