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N-deal: Some relief for govt
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 13
The UPA government appears to have scored a minor victory in its ongoing discussions with the Left parties on the controversial Indo-US civil nuclear deal.

After several rounds of intense discussions between the two sides, the Left parties have indicated their willingness to concede to the Centre’s proposal that the UPA government can approach the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to negotiate India-specific safeguards but will not finalise any agreement till the Left leaders give their green signal. The government, on its part, has assured the Communists that it will sign the formal document only after clearance from the UPA-Left joint panel.

With both sides having reached a broad agreement, the meeting of the UPA-Left panel on the N-deal, which was earlier deferred, has again been scheduled for November 16. Senior UPA ministers, who describe this as a “breakthrough”, revealed that a formal announcement is likely to be made in a joint statement after these deliberations.

The first indication of a UPA-Left compromise came from CPI general secretary A.B Bardhan yesterday when he told a news channel about the Left’s changed position. CPM general secretary Prakash Karat had also stuck a conciliatory note on this issue in his press briefing yesterday, saying the two sides were working to find a solution.

The climbdown comes in the light of government’s persistent efforts in persuading the Left parties in allowing the government to proceed with its negotiations with the IAEA. The Left parties, on their part, had consistently maintained that the government refrain from taking this next step as this is tantamount to operationalising the deal. The Communists have strong objections to the deal as they believe it will compromise India’s independent foreign policy and make it a junior partner of the USA.

UPA sources said the groundwork for this agreement was done by external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee and was clinched during last Saturday’s luncheon meeting hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the two Left leaders. Mukherjee and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi were also present at this two-hour meeting. This was followed by separate meetings between Mukherjee and CPM leaders Karat and Sitaram Yehcury.

The Left leaders were explained that if India reneges on this agreement, it will be denied access to nuclear fuel and reactors not just from the USA but from the entire international community. They cited the example of Russia which has agreed to sell four nuclear power plants to India but only after New Delhi gets the necessary waivers from the IAEA and the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

The ongoing violence in Nandigram which has pushed the CPM on the backfoot and the upcoming Gujarat elections proved to be important factors in clinching this agreement. Both the Congress and the Left parties realised the need for projecting a united front in the run-up to the Gujarat poll. “The two sides want it to be known that defeating Narendra Modi is more important than the nuclear deal,” remarked a senior UPA minister.

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