M A I N   N E W S

N-deal not at ‘now or never’ point: US
Sridhar Krishnaswami

Washington, March 26
The controversial Indo-US civil nuclear deal has not reached the point of “now or never”, the White House has said after External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s talks with President George W Bush here.

“... we have a little bit of time before we have to say now or never. We’ve got several months to continue to work with them (India),” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said.

Wrapping up his two-day visit, Mukherjee, who had a 35-minute meeting with Bush and held talks with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on Monday, said UPA government was “interested” in pursuing the deal and that it was aware of the July timeline suggested by members of the US Congress.

“There are some issues that are yet to be resolved. Unless those issues are resolved, it would be difficult for us to fix any particular time frame,” he told a press conference here yesterday.

He explained the difficulties of moving forward on the deal without a political consensus.

“At this juncture it is difficult for me to indicate any time frame by which we will be able to complete the process. We have some problems in the domestic field particularly among our supporters of the coalition government that we are heading. We are trying to resolve that issue but it might take some more time,” Mukherjee said before flying to London on his way back home.

Asked if the UPA was ready to sacrifice the government for the deal if no consensus emerged, the minister said: “It’s not a question of sacrificing either the government or the deal.”

The USA has been looking at India firming up the safeguards agreement with the IAEA and securing changes in the guidelines of the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) by July this year.

About the possibility of the deal getting the Congress approval by mid-year, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack spoke of the constraints if India failed to complete the processes.

“I think as that you get further and further into the Congressional calendar, I think it’s fair to say it’s more and more difficult just because of the political realities of the press of business,” he said. “The main issue now is the Indian government working its domestic politics,” McCormack said.

Mukherjee explained that the UPA government was trying to bring around Left allies on the deal.

“Currently we are engaged in resolving the issues and trying to find out whether we can find a meeting ground between us and a section of our supporters.” He said the government was “interested” in ratifying this cooperation because the country is energy deficient and “we would like to have alternate source of energy”.

Mukherjee said there had been “divergent views” on the deal not only from the Left but also the BJP.

“But there is an overwhelming consensus that nuclear technology is important and nuclear energy would be one of the sources of clean energy and we should try to have it,” the minister said. — PTI



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