Left-UPA stalemate over n-deal continues (Night Lead)

June 18th, 2008 - 1:29 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi

New Delhi, June 17 (IANS) Last-ditch efforts by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and its Left allies to find common ground on resolving the crisis over the contentious India-US civilian nuclear deal failed to make any headway Tuesday night. Hours before the UPA-Left nuclear panel holds crucial talks Wednesday, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee held another round of talks with Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Prakash Karat late Tuesday evening. Mukherjee and Karat met for the second successive day in an attempt to break the stalemate over finalising an India-specific safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the India-US nuclear deal.

Mukherjee had earlier held detailed discussions on the deal with his cabinet colleagues, including Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal and Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Prithviraj Chavan. He met Karat after the CPI-M-led Left parties reiterated their stand rejecting the government’s appeal for a green signal to sign the safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

“The situation is very difficult. We are not able to reach common ground,” said a senior UPA minister.

The Left allies have decided to reiterate their opposition to the civil nuclear agreement at the 15-member UPA-Left nuclear committee meeting, sources in the Left said Tuesday.

The Left can not make any more compromises with its opposition to the nuclear deal as it would “cost it dear” in electoral politics, according to sources in the CPI-M.

“What will we tell people if we allow them to go ahead and finalise the IAEA pact? It will be a political disaster for us,” a senior CPI-M leader told IANS, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Apart from reiterating their opposition, the Left parties will also insist that finalising the protocol with the IAEA will put the 123 agreement with Washington on auto pilot mode, the Left sources said.

Karat also discussed with his Communist Party of India counterpart A.B. Bardhan the government’s request for the Left’s support.

Bardhan later told reporters there was no change in the Left’s stance.

The government is keen on finalising the safeguards agreement before IAEA Director General Mohamed El Baradei completes his term in July.

Meanwhile, the pressure on Congress president Sonia Gandhi to go ahead with the deal despite the Left’s opposition has been increasing, sources said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been saying that the country would have to explore possibilities of other energy sources in the wake of the steep hike in international oil prices.

“The section which is supporting the deal is getting stronger these days,” said a Congress leader.

During his meeting with Karat on Monday, Mukherjee is believed to have told him that the communists’ apprehension that finalising the IAEA pact would put the contentious agreement on autopilot is “wrong”.

According to sources, the minister told Karat that the Left has to “trust” the government and that it has so far not taken any steps without the communist allies’ consent. Mukherjee was apparently seeking the Left’s green signal only for the IAEA pact.

“But how can we believe that 123 is dead. The whole process of IAEA negotiations started only to facilitate the 123 agreement,” a Left leader 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 guidelines, 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.

“Let the government put forward its suggestion at the (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,” 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.

Mukherjee heads the 15-member United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-Left nuclear committee.

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