Mukherjee to discuss nuclear deal hitch with Bush

March 24th, 2008 - 11:35 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Arun Kumar
Washington, March 24 (IANS) With the stalled India-US civil nuclear deal in the spotlight, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee holds wide ranging talks Monday with his US counterpart Condoleezza Rice before meeting President George W. Bush. Mukherjee’s meeting with Bush, who looks at the nuclear deal as a major foreign initiative comparable with Nixon’s opening to China, will be Bush’s first face-to-face exchange on the issue with an Indian political leader since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told him about “certain difficulties in the operationalisation” of the deal.

Before that the Indian minister, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and Joint Secretary (Americas) Gaitri Kumar will have a formal session with Rice and her team at the State Department followed by a freewheeling but closed-door event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Mukherjee, making his first visit to Washington as foreign minister, is also scheduled to meet Bush’s National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley at the White House Monday afternoon. Bush is expected to meet the Indian minister at that time.

Hours after the meeting with Bush, Mukherjee and Rice will have a quiet dinner Monday without any aides, 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 nuclear deal due to opposition from the Indian government’s Left allies.

At the State Department Mukherjee and Rice are likely to discuss the next steps that may be taken following finalisation of the text of an India specific safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

As Mukherjee made it clear before leaving for Washington, “some text has been reached, which only needs to be initialled”. However, it cannot be initialled unless the Indian government’s Left allies give it the go ahead.

Once India signs the agreement with IAEA, Washington will push India’s case for a change in the rules of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that controls global nuclear trade. The implementing 123 agreement finalised last July will then go to the US Congress for its final approval in an “up or down” vote.

The visit takes place within days of Mukherjee telling Parliament that India can neither “mend” nor “end” the deal.

It is also the first visit of an Indian foreign minister to Washington since the one undertaken by K. Natwar Singh in April 2005.

Besides the nuclear deal, Mukherjee’s talks with Rice as also with other US officials including the ones at the White House are expected to cover the entire spectrum of global, regional and bilateral issues including cooperation in defence and high technology.

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