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US Cong team stresses on Aug deadline
Ashok Tuteja
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 3
As the UPA regime intensified efforts to rescue the nuclear deal, an influential US Congressional delegation today said the pact must come back to the Congress for final vote by August as any further delay could harm the prospects of its passage during the tenure of the Bush Administration.

The six-member delegation, led by Gary Ackerman, chairman of the House of Representatives panel on West Asia and South Asia, said India must hasten the process of arriving at a political consensus on the deal, observing that it was moving slowly at the moment.

“The nuclear deal is not moving as fast as it should. It is moving slowly,” Ackerman told journalists after meetings with foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and P rime Minister’s special envoy on the nuclear deal Shyam Saran. It also called on defence minister A.K. Antony.

In what could throw a spanner in the works of New Delhi, Ackerman said the US Congress would break for session in September and would meet again after the presidential poll process, while making it clear that the deal would have to be taken up during the next administration if India fails to firm up a safeguards agreement with IAEA and get a waiver from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) by August.

“The Congress is an ongoing entity. We have a calendar. The calendar is running quickly,’’ he said after his delegation was briefed by the Indian officials on the efforts being made by the government to implement the pact, reached between Manmohan Singh and President Bush in July 2005.

Taking note of the political debate in India over the deal, he, however, refused to comment on it, saying it was an internal matter of this country. Asked whether he felt the deal could be implemented during the Bush administration’s remaining tenure, Ackerman said it would depend on whether India has the pact ready in time. “If they do it on time, we will be prepared,” he said.

Ackerman, who has been a pro-India Congressman, noted that the deal has bipartisan support in the Congress. He, however, emphasised that the fate of the nuclear deal will have no impact on the bilateral relations between India and the US.

Tomorrow, the US delegation will call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee besides holding talks with National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan.

Besides the nuclear deal, the US delegation is understood to have discussed various other bilateral issues with the Indian officials, besides international developments, including the Iran issue.

While batting for the nuclear deal, Ackerman has time and again asked India to reduce the level of its engagement with Iran. He has publicly voiced his opposition to the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project.

The pipeline issue may figure prominently during his talks with the NSA, who has just returned from Tehran, assuring the Iranian leadership of India’s commitment to the project.



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