Efforts continue, n-deal in national interest: Sharma

February 21st, 2008 - 10:19 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, Feb 21 (IANS) A day after a group of US senators set an early deadline for the India-US nuclear deal, Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma Thursday said the government was continuing its efforts to mobilize political consensus and was hopeful about the deal as it was in national interest. “Efforts continue. It’s a coalition government and we are trying to mobilize consensus for the nuclear deal,” Sharma said on the sidelines of a book release function at the Foreign Service Institute.

“I will not comment on the deadline. There is a consultative committee between the Left and the government,” Sharma said.

He was replying to a question on what he thought of an early deadline set by the three US senators who said here Wednesday that the deal must be ratified by the US Congress before July-end, failing which it will be re-negotiated if a Democrat becomes the president next year.

“It’s in national interest,” was all Sharma would say when asked whether the government was hopeful of wrapping up the deal this year.

Sharma was speaking after releasing “India of My Dreams,” a compilation of lectures delivered at the FSI by eminent personalities like Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, economist Meghnad Desai and danseuse Sonal Mansingh. The book has been published by Academic Foundation in collaboration with the FSI.

Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, former Democratic presidential candidate, and Chuck Hagel, a Republican senator, said that India must wrap up its safeguards pact with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “within a matter of weeks,” so that the deal can be ratified by the US Congress by an up and down vote by July-end.

They met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who told them that his government was “optimistic” about wrapping up the nuclear deal even as he explained his “difficulties” - a reference to the Left’s opposition to the nuclear deal - that stood in the way of the deal that aims at ending India’s global nuclear isolation.

The senators reminded the prime minister about the nuclear clock ticking away and underlined that if the deal does not reach the Congress before June, it will be difficult for the house to ratify it.

India is likely to finalise a safeguards pact with the IAEA later this month. But the Left parties have to approve the IAEA pact before the government can go ahead with the nuclear deal. With the Left not ready to dilute its opposition to the deal which it fears will make India subservient to the US’ strategic interests, a big question mark looms over the deal.

After India concludes the IAEA pact, the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has to change its guidelines to allow resumption of global civil nuclear cooperation with New Delhi.

The 123 India-US civil cooperation agreement will then have to be approved by an up and down vote by the US Congress before nuclear trade can resume between the two countries.

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