India to reveal nuke deal to US

NEW DELHI: India is set Monday to reveal where US firms will build multi-billion dollar nuclear power plants, during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's first official talks in New Delhi, aides said.

The move, once confirmed, will highlight benefits President Barack Obama's administration will derive from a landmark civilian nuclear deal sealed under his predecessor George W. Bush.

It will also serve to show how Clinton and Obama intend to build on a strategic partnership with India that was first forged by the Bush administration -- many of whose policies it has criticised and overhauled.

Two US officials told AFP on the condition of anonymity that they expected the location of the two sites to be disclosed on Monday, when Clinton meets Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna.

Other issues expected to come up during the talks include security, trade and arms control.

"We're very hopeful the Indians make the announcement on Monday," one official told AFP on the condition of anonymity.

The official mentioned press reports here that said a new Singh-led government, formed after elections in May, had chosen sites in the Indian states of Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.

Robert Blake, the assistant secretary of state for south Asian affairs, said last week that the deal is a "major opportunity for American companies, and opens up as much as 10 billion dollars worth of exports to India."

The Wall Street Journal, quoting people familiar with the issue, said the announcement probably will not lead to immediate contracts for firms like GE-Hitachi and Westinghouse Electric Co. to begin building plants.

In October last year, then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and her Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee signed a pact to open up sales of civilian nuclear technology to India for the first time in three decades.

The deal offers India access to US technology and cheap atomic energy in return for allowing UN inspections of some of its civilian nuclear facilities -- but not military nuclear sites.

Blake also raised hopes for a deal on "end-use monitoring" that analysts say would clear the way for military sales because it would allow Washington to make sure military equipment is used for its stated purpose.

However, one US official told AFP on the condition of anonymity the deal would "probably not" be sealed by Monday, without elaborating.

Evan Feigenbaum, who was deputy assistant secretary of state for south Asia under the administration of George W. Bush, said the deal got "hung up on some technicalities... and the clock basically ran out" when Bush left office.

The Obama administration wants to pursue efforts begun under the Bush administration to build a dialogue that reflects the importance India can play in fighting global climate change, promoting trade and curbing nuclear and other weapons.

US officials said both sides hope to seal a strategic dialogue on Monday that is built on five pillars: science and technology, health and innovation; energy and climate change; education and development; counter-terrorism and other strategic cooperation; and economics, trade and agriculture.

The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told AFP that cabinet officials from both sides would meet regularly to develop cooperation on these topics.

On Friday Clinton kicked off her maiden visit to India with a two-night stop in Mumbai. She is due to leave for Thailand on Tuesday.