Pranab to meet Bush, Rice on n-deal

March 23rd, 2008 - 12:47 am ICT by admin  

New Delhi, March 22 (IANS) Amid continuing uncertainty about the fate of the India-US nuclear deal, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee goes to Washington Sunday on a two-day visit that will focus on India’s pact with the IAEA and the next steps necessary to conclude the deal. “During his visit, he will meet his US counterpart, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, for discussions that will include a review of all aspects of the India-US bilateral relationship,” the external affairs ministry said while announcing Mukherejee’s visit here late Saturday night.

He will also call on President George W. Bush and meet US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley Monday and discuss with them further steps to firm up strategic and economic partnership between the two countries.

Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, who is also a key interlocutor on the nuclear deal, is accompanying Mukherjee on his maiden visit to Washington as external affairs minister.

During his meeting with top US officials, Mukherjee is likely to tell them that the government was still in the process of mobilizing the political consensus to move forward the deal that aims at ending India’s global nuclear isolation.

Ahead of his visit, Mukherjee Friday said that the text of India’s safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had been finalised but can only be “initialled” after a nod from the government’s Left allies.

“Some text has been reached, which only needs to be initialled, and that waits for the political process,” he told CNN-IBN news channel.

In a bid to allay the Left’s anxiety that the deal will be operationalised after India signs the IAEA agreement, Mukherjee clarified that the deal has three more hurdles to cross before the actual resumption of global nuclear commerce with India.

“The deal will be operationalised only after the IAEA, the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) and the US Congress give their approval and the Indian government then signs the agreement,” he said.

“We would like the deal to materialise. I am in the process of the dialogue (with the Left) and I don’t know what will be the outcome,” he said when asked whether the government will go ahead with the deal in the face of the relentless opposition of the Left.

Mukherjee’s visit comes at a time when the deal is still mired in domestic politics with the Left allies warning the government to choose either survival or the deal.

The ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) met its Left allies nearly a week ago and agreed to discuss the specifics of India’s pact with the IAEA next month.

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