UPA-Left n-panel meeting postponed to June (Lead)

May 26th, 2008 - 10:22 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, May 26 (IANS) The United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-Left nuclear committee meeting scheduled for Wednesday to decide on the contentious Indo-US nuclear deal has been postponed, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said here Monday. Mukherjee, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a function to dedicate a site for a South Asian university, said the meeting has been deferred to the first half of June.

According to official sources, the ninth meeting of the UPA-Left nuclear panel could meet June 11 to continue discussions on an India-specific safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Alluding to the nuclear deal, Mukherjee, who heads the 15-member panel, said the first phase has been completed. “We are to obtain the approval of the IAEA board of governors for an India-specific safeguards agreement. This is the second stage. The third stage will be amendment of the NSG guidelines.”

“After all these steps are completed, it will be taken for ratification to the US Congress,” said Mukherjee when asked about the progress of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

The IAEA board is expected to meet in the first week of June in Vienna. If the Left-UPA panel meets after that and no concrete decision is taken to go ahead with the deal, it will mean India missing another deadline to get it through the IAEA.

Wednesday’s meeting has been put off as the ruling Congress and the government wanted more time to finalise their strategies over pushing the India-US civil nuclear deal in the wake of the party’s debacle in the Karnataka assembly elections and the Left’s adamant stance on the deal, government sources said.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left parties, which prop up Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s coalition government, asserted their opposition against the nuclear deal at their meeting last week.

“The government has to review its strategies after the Karnataka defeat. A victory in the elections would have given us a moral boost to carry forward our agenda. It was a political necessity. The Left’s renewed opposition also has been a setback to our efforts to take the deal ahead,” a senior Congress party leader told IANS.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won 110 seats in the 225-member Karnataka assembly, is all set to form a government in the southern state. The Congress could bag only 80 seats.

The Left has been vehemently opposing the nuclear agreement saying that it would damage the country’s indigenous nuclear programme and independent foreign policy.

Although the government has been trying to convince its Left allies that New Delhi has to finalise its negotiations with the IAEA to get an “international passport” to do nuclear business with other countries - which has been blocked since India conducted its first Pokhran nuclear test in 1974, the communists refuse to buy the argument.

“Our stand that we are not for operationalisation of the 123 agreement (with Washington) remains the same,” CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat has said.

In the last meeting on May 6, the government tried to get a go-ahead from its Left allies on the final draft of the India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA. But the communists put their foot down.

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