Pranab invites Rice, shares ‘difficulties’ in n-deal (Lead, Changing dateline)

May 10th, 2008 - 8:13 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi/Washington, May 10 (IANS) With the Left parties refusing to relent in their opposition to the India-US civil nuclear deal, the Manmohan Singh government has conveyed to Washington its “difficulties” but indicated that efforts were still under way to forge political consensus on the deal. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee conveyed the government’s “difficulties” in the face of the allies’ continuing opposition to the deal when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rang him up Friday evening, reliable sources said here.

Mukherjee, however, kept a slight window of hope open by telling her that the government was trying its best to push the stalled deal and all efforts were being made to assuage the Left’s apprehensions.

Describing the conversation as “warm and cordial”, the external affairs ministry Saturday said Mukherjee and Rice “exchanged views on the important developments in our region as well as on global issues since they last met in the month of March this year”.

“He also extended an invitation to Secretary Rice to visit India to which she responded by agreeing to do so on a mutually agreed convenient date,” it said.

The State Department said in Washington Friday that the conversation focussed mostly on delivering aid to cyclone-hit Myanmar, but admitted the nuclear deal was also discussed.

Rice spoke to Mukherjee Friday as part of a series of calls to foreign leaders to urge them to use whatever leverage they have with Yangon to reach humanitarian supplies to Myanmar, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

“Of course, part of their discussion also was about the Indian civil nuclear deal, but they focussed quite a bit on the issue of Burma,” he said without giving any details about the conversation on the nuclear issue.

Rice’s call to Mukherjee coincidentally came the day a leading US daily reported that the State Department had asked US lawmakers to keep secret its answers to their queries about the nuclear agreement, fearing public disclosure may torpedo the deal.

With the civil nuclear deal “in such desperate straits that the State Department has imposed unusually strict conditions on the answers it provided to questions posed by members of Congress: keep them secret,” the Washington Post said Friday.

Significantly, the Indian foreign office’s statement after the talks did not mention the nuclear deal.

A meeting early this week between the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the Left parties ended without any change in the position of the communist parties that fear the deal will reduce India to a “subordinate ally” of the US.

The next UPA-Left meeting May 28 is expected to decide the fate of the deal.

If, by then, the Left does not approve of the government’s safeguards pact with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - a necessary step before the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) decides on changing its guidelines in favour of nuclear trade with India, there is very little likelihood of the deal going forward this year.

The government has not, however, given up and is trying out a new pitch to win over the Left.

It is likely to cite a recent civil nuclear deal between the US and Russia and plans of nuclear cooperation between Pakistan and China to underline the need for India to clinch this agreement that promises to reopen the doors of global nuclear commerce for New Delhi after a gap of three decades.

The White House has made it clear that the next two steps - India’s IAEA pact and a change in guidelines by the NSG - are not concluded by June-end, it will be difficult for the US Congress to ratify it this year.

During a recent visit to New Delhi, Senate Foreign Relations committee chairman Joseph Biden clearly stated that despite broad bipartisan support for the deal, it might be practically impossible to get Congressional approval for the implementing bilateral 123 agreement unless it reaches them by June end.

The deal has to cross two more hurdles before it goes to the US Congress for final approval. First, New Delhi has to sign an India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA and then ask the NSG to change its guidelines for nuclear commerce.

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