M A I N   N E W S

UPA-Left meeting postponed
Uncertainty over N-deal deepens
Anita Katyal and Faraz Ahmad
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 18
The last-minute postponement of today’s crucial meeting of the UPA-Left committee on the Indo-US nuclear agreement has further prolonged the uncertainty over the fate of the deal and the government, as the two sides have stuck to their respective positions.

The meeting has now been rescheduled for June 25 when the the two are expected to formalise their stands. It will then be up to the UPA to take a political call on whether it wants to press ahead irrespective of the Left’s opposition.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi are learnt to have told the communists in no uncertain terms that they want to finalise the India-specific safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but the Left parties have responded with a firm no.

The four Left parties reiterated their opposition to the safeguards agreement after a joint meeting this evening where CPM general secretary Prakash Karat briefed them about his discussions with external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, who also heads the 15-member UPA-Left committee on the nuke deal. The two leaders had met on Monday and Tuesday evening.

A signed joint statement by the Left parties stated categorically, “The Left parties are of the firm opinion that the government should not proceed to seek the approval of the text of the India-specific safeguards agreement from the board of governors of the IAEA.” The Left parties added a fresh rider today stating they were unable to form any opinion on the this safeguards agreement as they had not been shown the full text.

The Left parties believe if they give their go ahead at this stage, such a move will put the nuclear agreement with Washington in “auto pilot mode”.

UPA sources said they were unable to share a confidential official document with them, but they had explained its salient features to the communists and had even responded in writing to all the queries raised by them.

Today’s meeting was meant to take a final call on this issue but both sides decided to play for more time. The official reason for the postponement was that Pranab Mukherjee was busy with the delegation of visiting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but unofficially they admitted that they were buying time to arrive at a consensus.

That the government is keen on pushing ahead with the deal has been evident from the spate of recent public pronouncements made by the Prime Minister and the Congress president in support of the deal, which, they feel, will help augment the country’s energy resources. The government’s desperation is also based on the growing perception that the ruling combine is weak and that the Prime Minister has no authority vis-a-vis the Left veto. As the Congress heads for a series of elections, it will like to correct this perception. “It will send out a message that the government is in charge,” remarked a senior Congress leader.

In an attempt to convince the Left parties, the UPA government has delinked the the IAEA agreement from the deal with the US and instead argued that the India-specific agreement and the subsequent clearance from the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) is critical to seal a nuclear deal with other countries like France and Russia.

Meanwhile, a US official’s statement that Washington will make every effort to get the nuclear deal has met with some scepticism as the Indian establishment understands that September-end is the cut-off to see the deal though the US Congress.



US to work on it till Jan 20, Bush’s last day in office
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

As deadlines come and go, administration officials here, frustrated at attempts in India to block a civilian nuclear agreement, say they are committed to pushing the deal until January 20, President George Bush's last day in office.

State department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters on Tuesday, "The bottom line is, from now until January 20th, we'll continue to work to support this agreement. We'll continue to encourage the Indian Government to approve it. And if such time, it is approved, whether that is today, tomorrow, or January 19th, we will make every effort to move it through Congress."

US officials have watched with growing unease as the last hope of a sole foreign policy success slips out of their grasp with the Left's opposition to the deal.

Casey contended, "We have fewer days now to do it than we did yesterday, and fewer days now than we did two days before it."

He reiterated Washingtonï's belief that the nuclear deal is "in the interests of both countries." But, he added, "The obstacle has been that the Indian government has some internal political issues that it needs to resolve before it can move forward with it."

Both senators Barack Obama and John McCain, the presumptive presidential nominees of the Democratic Party and Republican Party, supported the nuclear deal when it came up for a vote in the US Congress. However, supporters of the deal worry that it will not be a priority for the next US administration, in part due to nonproliferation concerns that shroud the agreement. Obama voted for killer amendments to the Hyde Act that paved the way for cooperation in civilian nuclear energy with India. He backed California Democratic Sen Barbara Boxer's killer amendment that sought to link nuclear cooperation to India severing military-to-military ties with Iran.

Obama also voted for a killer amendment sponsored by Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, seeking to ensure that US fuel or technology wouldn't be used to develop India's nuclear arsenal. McCain abstained from that vote. The amendment failed to pass.

Obama himself introduced an amendment compelling Washington to urge other countries not to supply nuclear materials to India if the U.S. cut off this supply in response to India's actions, for instance, in the case of a nuclear test. The amendment was accepted.

Casey was hopeful the next administration would favour the deal. "We would certainly hope that the next administration, whoever comes to office in January, would also see this agreement as something fundamentally in America's interest and want to move forward with it as well," he said.



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