PM ‘optimistic’, US senators set July deadline for n-deal

February 20th, 2008 - 9:10 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, Feb 20 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday told visiting US senators that his government was “optimistic” about wrapping up the nuclear deal even as he was reminded that India needed to act quickly so that the deal can be ratified by the US Congress before July-end. They also reminded India that the failure to clinch the deal could lead to a renegotiation of the deal if a Democrat becomes the next US president.

Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, former Democratic presidential candidate, and Chuck Hagel, a Republican senator, met Manmohan Singh discussed an entire array of issues relating to the India-US relationship, including the nuclear deal.

“The prime minister appeared to be optimistic. He told us, no, it is not over,” he said when asked what Manmohan Singh told him about the chances of the deal going through this year.

“He explained his difficulties and his party’s dilemma and said he will pursue it,” Biden replied while alluding to domestic politics in India, specially the opposition of the government’s Left allies to the nuclear deal.

There was no word from the external affairs ministry or the prime minister’s office on the meeting between the prime minister and the three US senators, who flew in here after observing Monday’s polls in Pakistan.

In their discussions with the prime minister, the US senators underlined the need for India to quickly wrap up its pact with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) so that the deal can reach the US Congress in May or June.

“It will be very difficult if it is not ratified by the US Congress by July-end. If the deal does not go through, it will be re-negotiated by a Democrat president,” Biden told reporters.

Asked whether July was the de facto deadline for the nuclear deal, Biden replied: “Practically, it is”.

“Time is of essence. July is the end… If it is not done by the end of July, the deal does not go through. It has to reach the US Congress before June,” he stressed.

“It’s highly unlikely that the next president will be able to present the deal in its present form,” he said while stressing that the Democratic Party, which has strong views relating to nuclear proliferation and arms control, will re-negotiate the deal if it comes to power.

“This is an important moment for India. If we don’t get the IAEA pact within weeks, it’s going to be physically difficult due to the Congressional calendar to get the deal through,” said Senator John Kerry, the Democrat candidate for the 2004 presidential polls.

“The reluctance of senators had been overcome by their belief in the strength of the India-US relationship,” he emphasised.

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’s continuing opposition to the deal which it fears will make India subservient to the US’ strategic interests, a big question mark continues to hover over the deal.

After India concludes the IAEA pact, the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has to change its guidelines allowing for 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.

Stressing that the India-US strategic partnership was much bigger than just the nuclear deal, Biden, however, emphasised that the failure to push the deal through this year will nonetheless “indirectly impact” on this growing relationship.

“If the Indian government waits too long and sends it to us at the last moment, the deal will not go through. Our worry is that our failure to ratify the deal will then be seen in India as a rejection,” he said.

“That will be a wrong message. We trust India. We trust Indians. We value very much India being brought to the nuclear table,” he added.

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