M A I N   N E W S

8-member team ready for whirlwind tour
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, July 21
Confident about sailing through tomorrow’s trust vote in the Lok Sabha, the UPA government has set up a high-powered eight-member team which is all set to tour the 45 countries of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to hardsell the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement to them.

The team comprises Union ministers Prithviraj Chavan, Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, national security adviser M.K. Narayanan, government interlocutor on the nuke-deal Shyam Saran, foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and two senior officials from the external affairs ministry. The team is learnt to have been handpicked by external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee.

The team will embark on its whirlwind tour on July 24 unless the UPA government’s calculations go awry and the ruling coalition is voted out tomorrow.

Each team member is slated to visit four to five countries within the next four weeks to enable India to complete the next two stages of negotiations so that the agreement can be put to vote in the September session of US Congress.

Prithviraj Chavan, for instance, is to travel to Italy, Spain, Portugal and China. Chavan had been a member of Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s delegation when she visited China several months ago.

UPA sources said the government has to rush through with these meetings as it is racing against time given the tight international deadlines it has to contend with.

India has to complete three critical stages to seal the deal. It has to finalise the India-specific safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), get a waiver from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and then win an approval from the US Congress which meets next in September.

“We want to complete all our work so that the agreement can be taken up in this session,” said a senior UPA minister.

New Delhi has approached the IAEA for the finalisation of the India-specific safeguards agreement and the matter is slated to be taken up at the August 1 meeting of the IAEA’s Board of Governors. Foreign secretary Menon has already made a trip to Vienna for a preliminary briefing with the board members on the salient features of the agreement which has already been negotiated with the IAEA secretariat.

After the IAEA approves the safeguards agreement, the UPA government has then to approach the NSG to get a waiver from its members to allow nuclear trade with India. India would like this process to be completed by August-end though there are fears that it could run into opposition from countries like Australia, Japan and Canada who do not favour any special treatment for India since it has not signed the non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

However, the American administration has assured India it will help to fast-track the deal through the NSG. Once it clears the NSG within the given time-frame, India should not have any problems getting it through the US Congress. However, it is imperative for New Delhi to make it for the September session after which the United States will be in the midst of a presidential election.



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