India, US to discuss n-deal progress during Boucher visit

March 3rd, 2008 - 5:53 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, March 3 (IANS) Even as the Indian government is engaged in forging “broad political consensus” on the pending nuclear deal, US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher comes here Tuesday in yet another attempt to push the beleaguered deal that aims at ending India’s global nuclear isolation. Boucher will hold talks with external affairs ministry officials, including joint secretary (in charge of Americas) Gayatri Kumar , on a range of bilateral and global issues. The talks will include the nuclear deal that has been hailed as a symbol of transformed ties between India and the US.

Boucher, the State Department official in charge of South and Central Asia, is also expected to meet Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and call on External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

The ongoing efforts at forging a coalition government in Pakistan and the implications of the new dispensation in Pakistan for stability in the region will also figure in the discussions.

Like a slew of senior US officials who visited India recently, Boucher is expected to remind his Indian interlocutors about the clock ticking away for the nuclear deal, which they stressed was “good for India, the US and the world”.

But, at the same time, he is expected to underline the point that even if the deal were not to go through, the ongoing transformation in the India-US relations will not be affected.

Boucher comes at a time when the nuclear deal is precariously poised in India as the Left allies of the government continue to persist in their opposition to the deal on grounds that it will make India subservient to strategic interests.

Mukherjee said in parliament Monday: “We will continue to seek broad political consensus within the country to take forward our engagement on this issue with other countries.”

Senior figures of the Bush administration like Defence Secretary Robert Gates and US Undersecretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Mario Mancuso visited India last week and underlined the need to push through the deal quickly. Failing that, it will be difficult for the US Congress to endorse the deal in an election year in that country, he stressed.

Three US senators, including influential Democrat and former presidential candidate like John Kerry, and Joseph Biden, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, set out a May-July deadline for wrapping up the next two steps: the India-International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) pact and a change in guidelines by the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) specifically for India.

The next few weeks could prove to be crucial to the fate of the nuclear deal, which aims at ending India’s global nuclear isolation, as New Delhi has almost finalized the text of the safeguards agreement with the IAEA and is waiting for a nod from the Left parties who virtually holds the veto over the deal.

The forthcoming constituent assembly elections in Nepal and the security situation in Afghanistan are also expected figure in the talks between Boucher and Indian officials as the two countries have crucial stakes in the stability of these countries.

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