US, India officials hold talks on nuclear deal

Indian and U.S. delegates met for a second day Friday to seal a much-touted civilian nuclear deal between the two countries, officials said.

The deal has been delayed by disagreements over clauses that India says could limit its nuclear weapons program and, in the process, impinge on its sovereignty.

On Friday, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns met with India's junior External Affairs Minister Anand Sharma in New Delhi, said U.S. Embassy official Unni Menon.

"The deal is mutually advantageous. There is no question in my mind that we would continue hard work, and in good spirit we can reach a final agreement, and we look forward to that," Burns told reporters.

Technical-level talks were also held Friday, Menon said.

Details were not immediately available on the progress of the talks, which were set to end Saturday.

Burns was also scheduled to meet India's External Affairs Minister Pranab Kumar Mukherjee, and National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan.

The nuclear deal is seen as the cornerstone of an emerging partnership between Washington and New Delhi after decades of Cold War wariness.

"We've made a lot of progress in that agreement," Burns said ahead of the talks with Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon. However, Burns continued, "some hard work has to be done."

One of the biggest sticking points has been India's displeasure with a clause that would let the United States halt cooperation if India tests a nuclear weapon.

Some in India also fear the deal could limit the country's right to reprocess spent atomic fuel - a key step in making weapons-grade nuclear material - and thus hamper its long-standing weapons program.

American critics, meanwhile, say the plan would spark a nuclear arms race in Asia by allowing India to use the extra nuclear fuel, which the deal would provide, to free up its domestic uranium for weapons.

Burns was visiting New Delhi days before U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to discuss the deal with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when they meet on the sidelines of a G-8 summit in Germany.

The nuclear deal, agreed to by Bush and Singh in July 2005, would let the U.S. ship nuclear fuel and know-how to India in exchange for safeguards and U.N. inspections at India's 14 civilian nuclear plants. Eight military plants would be off-limits.