India, U.S. meet on civilian nuclear deal

India and the United States pressed on Friday with talks to finalize a landmark civilian nuclear cooperation pact that President George W. Bush said he hopes could be completed when he visits the South Asian country next week.

The agreement to provide India with much-needed nuclear fuel is seen as a cornerstone of the emerging alliance between New Delhi and Washington after nearly a half-century of Cold War estrangement, and officials on both sides have said they wanted to hammer out all its details before Bush's trip.

But disagreements over how India would separate its tightly entwined civilian and military nuclear programs, a key component of the deal, have delayed finalizing the agreement, which must be approved by a skeptical U.S. Congress.

Bush told Indian journalists in Washington that he hoped to have an agreement ready for U.S. lawmakers when he returned from India.

"First is to go to India and hopefully reach an agreement on separation, and then bring that agreement back and start selling it to the Congress," Bush said in the interview Wednesday with reporters from The Dainak Bhaskar and The Times of India. The White House released a transcript of the interview Thursday.

Also on Thursday, a senior U.S. diplomat expressed doubt the pact would be finalized before Bush arrived in India, reports the AP.

I.L.