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Nich in Delhi, Washington hopes a tie up

India and the United States have “considerable work” to do to resolve their differences over a landmark nuclear deal, Washington’s envoy to New Delhi said on Wednesday, the eve of further negotiations between the two sides.

US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns is due in the capital on Thursday for talks with Indian officials over the agreement, regarded as a major test of the new friendship between the large democracies.

“There is considerable work to be done on what is a very technical and detailed agreement,” Ambassador David Mulford said in a statement. “We want to finish as soon as we can and both sides are positive we can do this.”

The two countries have struggled to overcome differences over the fineprint of the deal after the US Congress, concerned about preventing nuclear proliferation, introduced amendments to a law it approved in December backing the pact.

As a result, the two sides have been unable to finalize a deal governing nuclear trade. India says it cannot accept some new terms it sees as impinging on its sovereignty.

The deal aims to overturn three decades of US sanctions on sales of nuclear reactors and fuel to India to help it meet its soaring energy needs, even though New Delhi has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has tested nuclear weapons.

A US official in Washington, who spoke on condition that he not be named, played down the chances of Burns securing an agreement on this trip, but said Washington hopes to conclude one ahead of the June 6-8 Group of Eight summit in Germany.

“I don’t think he is expecting to (complete an agreement) on this particular trip but he is hoping to tee it up,” said the US official. “We would like to see this be done in time for the G8 summit … if for some reason it didn’t happen by the G8 it’s not the end of the world.”

India says it cannot accept some new terms such as a US decision to end nuclear trade if New Delhi conducts another nuclear test, and not give India rights to reprocess spent nuclear fuel.

Although both sides say there is strong political backing to push the deal through, the US administration has apparently become impatient with the delay in concluding it.

Some Indian officials attribute this frustration to what they say is a feeling in Washington that time is running out as the administration of President George W Bush nears the end of its term.

But they say it would be difficult for India to compromise in the face of fierce domestic political opposition and charges of a sellout to the United States.

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