Left to discuss government request on IAEA pact (Lead)

June 17th, 2008 - 3:25 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi

New Delhi, June 17 (IANS) The government may have made a last-ditch attempt to move forward on the India-US civil nuclear deal, but its Left allies appear to be in no mood to accede to its request that they let it go ahead with finalising the India-specific safeguard agreement with the IAEA. “Let the government put forward its suggestion at (Wednesday’s) meeting. We will discuss it. But our position remains that finalising the agreement at the IAEA would put the nuclear deal on autopilot,” Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury told reporters here Tuesday.

“If the safeguard agreement is put in place, it means operationalisation of the deal. We do not want the 123 agreement (with Washington) to be operationalised,” the party politburo member asserted.

Yechury’s remarks have come a day after CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat had a one-to-one meeting with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who heads the 15-member United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-Left nuclear committee.

The UPA-Left panel will hold a crucial meeting on Wednesday.

Mukherjee, who met Karat for an hour Monday evening, sought the Left’s support for finalising the safeguard agreement with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) before its Director General Mohamed El Baradei completes his term in July.

Mukherjee is believed to have told Karat that the communists’ apprehension that finalising the IAEA pact would put the contentious agreement on autopilot is “wrong”.

Karat reportedly gave no assurance to the foreign minister. However, he is meeting the Communist Party of India (CPI) general secretary A.B. Bardhan Tuesday evening to discuss the government’s proposal.

According to sources, the foreign affairs minister told Karat that the Left has to “trust” the government and that the government has not taken any steps without the communist allies’ consent so far.

The minister is also said to have told Karat that the government would in future not make any move without discussion with the Left parties.

The sources also said Mukherjee told the Left leader that the UPA government was in no mood to sign the deal without majority in parliament.

According to a senior Congress minister, even party chief Sonia Gandhi has clarified that the nuclear deal should not come at the cost of “sacrificing the government”.

“We do not want to create a bad precedence by pushing the deal if the government is reduced to a minority,” the minister, who did not wish to be identified, said.

Once the IAEA agreement is finalised, it will be placed before the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to get an “India-specific” exemption to its guideline, thus clearing the way for nuclear commerce between New Delhi and NSG member countries.

Once it passes through the NSG, the US Congress will have to decide if it wants to give its nod to the 123 agreement to change its domestic laws to allow trade between US companies and India on civilian nuclear energy and technology.

The CPM-led Left parties, which extend crucial legislative support to the UPA government, had given the green signal for negotiation with the IAEA but insisted that it could not be finalised without their approval.

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