Government tells foreign office ‘deal is on’; France pitches in (NightLead)

June 26th, 2008 - 9:38 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi/Washington, June 26 (IANS) The Indian government Thursday virtually gave the go-ahead to the foreign policy establishment on the India-US nuclear deal even as France joined Russia in putting more pressure on New Delhi to expedite its passage. A day after the UPA-Left committee had an unresolved meeting to avert confrontation, a highly placed official stated: “We have been told that the government is politically determined to go ahead with the deal.”

The statement was made on a day when a French diplomat also asked India to expedite the deal, pointing out that the proposed agreement with the US was not just a bilateral treaty, but a package deal which will open new industrial avenues with other nations.

This happened even as Prithviraj Chavan, the minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), told reporters after a cabinet meeting: “There is no threat to the government.”

Just a week ago, Russia’s envoy to India, Vyacheslav Trubnikov, also said that India should sign the deal “sooner than later”. Both countries have large domestic nuclear industries, which are eager to sell their wares to energy-deficit India, free from international sanctions on nuclear trade.

The international pressure comes as the Manmohan Singh government tries to get the India-US nuclear deal implemented before the Bush administration demits office at the end of 2008.

Manmohan Singh is travelling to Japan early next month as an outreach partner invited to the G8 summit where he will meet President George Bush as well as other leaders of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) nations including Russia, France, Canada and Germany.

In Washington Wednesday, US Congressman Gary Ackerman expressed his “strong support” to the 123 agreement.

“I look forward to the government of India completing its internal processes so that the US Congress can give final approval to this historic deal,” said the influential lawmaker who is visiting India next week at the head of a bipartisan delegation that will meet Manmohan Singh and other political leaders.

At the UPA-Left committee meeting Wednesday, the Left parties argued in a note that since the US would be initiating the process to get a waiver for India from the NSG, the deal will be on “auto pilot” with New Delhi having no say in it.

“Nothing is on auto-pilot,” said the highly placed government official, dismissing Left objections. “Nothing that NSG does is binding on us, unless we agree.”

While the top official noted that the US had “promised” to take the proposal for change in guidelines to the NSG as per the joint statement of July 18, 2005, “NSG has to ultimately finalise it with India”.

Further, India will go ahead with the rest of the steps after signing the safeguards agreement that will open up trade in nuclear technology and fuel with the rest of the world, he added.

“It will be ridiculous that we do IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and not the rest,” said the top official who did not wish to be identified.

But that decision will have to be taken by the political establishment. “How it is to be done - that is a political decision,” he stated.

The Left has been arguing that the deal is more than a commercial agreement, but rather brings India into America’s strategic sphere.

The government had earlier tried to sell the deal to the Left, pointing out that it would lead to similar agreements with Russia, France and other interested countries to meet India’s energy needs.

Therefore, the timing of support from both France and Russia is significant.

“The deal is not an India-US deal rather it is a package deal between IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), NSG, Russia, France, UK and China, whereby we are agreeing upon an agenda to work on civil nuclear development,” a top French diplomat said here.

He echoed the remarks of Russian envoy Trubnikov last week who told reporters that the deal would “open the door” for India to sophisticated and dual-use technologies and civil nuclear cooperation with a large number of countries.

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