Time tight, but we can still do n-deal, says US

March 5th, 2008 - 5:40 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, March 5 (IANS) Pushing for an early conclusion of the nuclear deal so that it can be ratified by Congress before July, the US Wednesday said “the time is tight” but the two sides could still “make it happen”, notwithstanding stiff political opposition here. “The time is tight, very tight and there is lot of work to be done but I think we can make this happen,” US Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asia Richard Boucher told reporters here at the end of his two-day visit.

“I am certainly aware that things fall apart … but on the other hand, my job is to make things work. What I am focussed on right now is how to make things succeed. We both want this to happen,” said Boucher when asked whether the failure of the deal will affect burgeoning India-US ties.

“We should not miss the opportunity… We are kind of playing in overtime right now.”

With an eye on the Left parties in India who are virulently opposed to the nuclear deal, Boucher sought to allay anxieties about the Hyde Act, saying that the 123 agreement, and not the Hyde Act, would determine civil nuclear commerce between the two countries.

“As far as the Hyde Act is concerned, it is a domestic legislation that determines what we do in our government. It’s an enabling legislation whose main purpose is to allow us to conclude the nuclear agreement with India,” Boucher said.

“As for the 123 agreement, that’s what binds India and the US in the framework. I frankly see no contradiction between the two,” Boucher said in a bid to allay anxieties in India about the impact of the Hyde Act on the nuclear deal.

Boucher, who met Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and senior officials of the external affairs ministry Monday, struck an optimistic note about concluding the deal but reminded India that there was “a very tight deadline” for doing so due to the pressures on the US Congress in an election year.

“I am optimistic that it’s a good deal for India, the US and non-proliferation,” Boucher replied when asked about his impression of whether India was ready to push the deal through political opposition.

“Realistically, the authoritarian voice in this regard is that of Senator Joseph Biden (chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee). The idea is to get the deal through the US Congress by July,” he said.

Alluding to remarks made by Biden and former Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry during a recent visit to India, he added that India should conclude the next steps - IAEA pact and a change in guidelines by the NSG - by May so that it can be ratified by the US Congress before July-end.

Signalling his government’s intent to wrap up the deal that seeks to open doors of global nuclear commerce for India after a gap of three decades, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the parliament Wednesday that his government was seeking the “broadest possible consensus” on the pact, seen as a symbol of transformed ties between the world’s two largest democracies.

India has nearly finalised the draft text of its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but the government can proceed with the deal only after its Left allies approve the pact. The pact is likely to be clinched before External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee goes to Washington March 13-15.

“This is an important piece of the puzzle that needs to be put in place,” Boucher said while alluding to India’s negotiations with the IAEA. “There are other pieces of puzzles that need to be put in place as well.”

Boucher, however, evaded a question on whether India shared its draft pact with the IAEA, and whether Mukherjee would bring the draft pact with him during his visit to Washington.

The US official also said the deal may take up to two months in the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which is required to amend its guidelines before the resumption of global civil nuclear commerce with India. He, however, added: “There are going to be a lot of questions in the NSG as the NSG countries are completely committed to the non-proliferation cause.”

“I don’t know what is going to be China’s position,” he replied when asked what he thought of China’s stand in the NSG. China, which was earlier critical of some aspects of the deal, has indicated to India that it will not be an obstacle to India’s aspirations in the NSG.

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