The United States and India were bargaining over the terms of a landmark nuclear agreement even as US President George W. Bush flew to New Delhi for the first visit there of his presidency.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said sticking points remained in the way of an agreement and singled out one particularly contentious subject.
"The one thing that is absolutely necessary is that any agreement would assure that once India has decided to put a reactor under safeguard that it remain permanently under safeguard," she said.
Rice and national security adviser Stephen Hadley briefed reporters on Air Force One as Bush flew from Washington. He was due to arrive in India Wednesday night.
The provision Rice cited would prevent India from transferring a reactor from civilian to military status, thus exempting it from international inspections.
Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed an agreement in July that would provide India with nuclear fuel for the country's booming but energy-starved economy. The pact, which faces political opposition in both countries, hinges on determining how to separate India's civilian and military nuclear facilities.
Rice said she was uncertain whether there would be an agreement during Bush's trip but said the success or failure of his visit wouldn't be determined by that. "We're still working on it," she said. "Obviously it would be an important breakthrough" for the United States and India.
"We very much would like to have a deal," she said. "We are continuing to work on it." She expressed confidence that if no deal results from this trip, the US and would get one later.
During a refueling stop in Shannon, Bush shook hands and posed for pictures with US Marines on their way to Kuwait. The young men, in camouflage uniforms, lined up to shake hands with the commander in chief.
Rice said India's neighbor and nuclear rival, Pakistan, would not qualify for the same sort of nuclear treatment as New Delhi. "Pakistan is not in the same place as India," Rice said. "I think everybody understands that."
The United States says India has an unblemished record on nuclear proliferation and has not sold its technology to any outsiders. Pakistan, on the other hand, has acknowledged it has secretly sold nuclear technology to a number of countries.
(Chinadaily.com via agencies March 1, 2006)