Antony brought into n-deal talks on PM’s request

June 22nd, 2008 - 6:59 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Liz Mathew
New Delhi, June 22 (IANS) Defence Minister A.K. Antony has been roped in for all political discussions over the India-US civil nuclear deal on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s request, Congress sources said Sunday. According to the sources, Manmohan Singh told Congress president Sonia Gandhi Wednesday that he wanted Antony to join the negotiations held with the Left parties, rather than enturst the task exclusively to External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

Since then, the defence minister has been present in almost all the known meetings Mukherjee has had with leaders of the Left and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) allies over the nuclear issue.

A section of the Congress feels that Mukherjee is seemingly not eager to push the nuclear agreement, an issue close to Manmohan Singh’s heart, because the foreign minister felt he was ignored in the initial stages of the ambitious agreement. Mukherjee’s supporters deny this.

Besides, Mukherjee’s rumoured proximity with Communist leaders also has been viewed warily by some Congress leaders. When the Communists backed his name for the post of the president to succeed A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, it raised eyebrows in the Congress.

It is following the request of both the prime minister and Gandhi that Mukherjee came to head the 15-member UPA-Left committee formed to address concerns raised by the Communists over the nuclear deal.

But Antony’s presence, it seems, has not helped Mukherjee to persuade the Communists to give up their opposition to the deal — so far.

Mukherjee met Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general secretary Prakash Karat Monday and Tuesday evenings. But he could not convince Karat into giving a green signal to the government to finalise the India-specific safeguard agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

It was after this Manmohan Singh called on Gandhi and expressed his desire that Antony should be asked to aid Mukherjee in future talks with the Left and other UPA allies.

Antony was present when Mukherjee met Karat for the third time in the week Friday and earlier with CPI-M politburo member Sitaram Yechury.

Antony also attended Mukherjee’s meetings Friday with Communist Party of India (CPI) national secretary D. Raja, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad.

The CPI-M-led Left parties, which prop up the Congress-led Manmohan Singh government, have rejected the government’s repeated pleas to allow it to finalise the IAEA safeguards agreement.

After the Wednesday meeting between the prime minister and Gandhi, the government axed a scheduled meeting of the UPA-Left nuclear committee that had been scheduled for June 25.

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