M A I N   N E W S

Nuclear Deal
Still time to move forward, says US
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

President George W. Bush’s administration continues to remain optimistic about the future of the civilian nuclear agreement with India but on Thursday noted that “time is running out.”

State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey told reporters “time is running out to be able to give this current Congress the opportunity to consider this arrangement.”

“We certainly believe it is still possible for this deal to move forward and for our Congress to have an opportunity to consider it,” he said, adding, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

But in what could perhaps be a sign that the Bush administration is resigned to the fact that the deal may not be completed in time, Casey said “there would be opportunities in future congresses and with the future administration to move forward on this.”

In yet another ominous sign, former Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, who had been the administration’s point person on the deal, did not take part in crucial discussions with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee in Washington last month. At the time of his departure from the State Department Burns said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had asked him to continue working on the India deal.

Congressional sources say the deal needs to get to lawmakers by June if it is to stand a chance of being wrapped up before Bush leaves office in January 2009. Before that India needs to get an India-specific safeguards agreement initialled by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors. It must then win a consensus at the Nuclear Suppliers Group in favour of the deal.

Casey noted Congress will be in session for “quite a bit ways more this year and we would certainly hope to have an opportunity to present them with this agreement and give them a chance to vote on it.”

The spokesman said Washington is mindful of the fact that there are “still issues that the Indian political system needs to work through.”

“We certainly would like to see this deal concluded as soon as possible. And we, of course, have our own calendar in terms of elections and a legislative timetable,” Casey said.

Casey said the Bush administration continued to believe the deal is “good, not only for India and for the United States, but also good in terms of strengthening the non-proliferation regimes that are out there.”



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