Mukherjee briefs Rice on n-deal hitch

March 25th, 2008 - 12:25 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
(Second Lead)
By Arun Kumar
Washington, March 24 (IANS) India has briefed the US about its political constraints that have stalled their landmark civil nuclear deal while assuring it that it was still “interested in implementing the agreement”. “We are interested in implementing the landmark agreement reached between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush” in July 2005 and March 2006, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters after a 30-minute meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice here.

“Now we have some political problems in our country and currently we are engaged in the process of resolving them,” he said referring to the opposition to the nuclear deal by the Indian government’s Leftist supporters.

Mukherjee, making his first visit to Washington as foreign minister, is expected to convey India’s political compulsions over the nuclear deal to Bush too when he meets him Monday afternoon after a scheduled meeting with National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley at the White House.

Of the steps required to implement the deal that would restart nuclear commerce between the two countries after 30 years, the bilateral 123 accord had been finalised and discussions with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on an India-specific safeguards agreement are over, the minister said.

“But the agreement is yet to be initialled and approved by the IAEA Board of Governors,” Mukherjee said. “At that stage we are engaged in discussions with various political parties who support us. Discussions are still going on.”

Rice said they had only a brief discussion on the nuclear deal. Mukherjee had conveyed to her the problems that had arisen in implementing the agreement as also New Delhi’s interest in going forward wit it.

“We will continue to work on the landmark agreement, which is good for both sides and for non-proliferation,” she said.

They would continue their discussion at a dinner Monday night, Rice said, as “we have a lot more to talk about”.

Mukherjee said they had a “quite satisfactory discussion” covering some areas of cooperation and sharing “some parts of our issues”.

Complimenting Rice for her role in transforming India-US relations and giving it a strong foundation, he said the two countries had signed a record number of agreements, which “would not have been possible without a broad-based convergence of interests”.

The two-way trade had grown tremendously. There was momentum in defence ties and peaceful exploration of space besides cooperation in agriculture, health and education, he said, expressing a desire to “maintain a still closer dialogue” with the US.

In response to a question about Tibet, Mukherjee said India had given shelter to the Dalai Lama and his 180,000 followers. They were free to engage in cultural, religious and spiritual activities but legally barred from political activity inimical to friendly relations between India and any other country.

But “we do hope it would be possible to resolve the issues through peaceful dialogue,” he said.

Rice too repeated her call to the Chinese to exercise restraint and engage in a dialogue with the Dalai Lama saying given his stature he could play a very favourable role in resolving the issue.

For the record, Mukherjee and Rice only had a broad discussion on deepening their relations. This clearly indicated that a substantive dialogue on the nuclear deal will come only at their dinner meeting after his parleys with Bush.

The dinner meeting between Mukherjee and Rice, without any aides, is presumably to take stock of where they stand on the nuclear deal and other issues and how to consolidate their relationship despite the hitch that has arisen in the deal.

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