Top US senators set July-end deadline for n-dealFebruary 20th, 2008 - 7:35 pm ICT by admin
New Delhi, Feb 20 (IANS) India must quickly wrap up the nuclear deal so that it can be ratified by the US Congress before July-end, failing which it will be renegotiated if a Democrat becomes the next US president, top US senators said here Wednesday. “It will be very difficult if we don’t get the deal before July-end. If it is not ratified by the US Congress by then, the deal will be re-negotiated by a Democrat president,” Senator Joseph Biden, who heads the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters here.
Asked whether July was the de facto deadline for the nuclear deal, Biden replied: “Practically, it is”.
“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 has strong views relating to nuclear proliferation and arms control.
“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.
“It is important for India to move the agreement as rapidly as possible, preferably within weeks. Time is of essence,” Biden said in a reminder to India about time running out for the landmark nuclear deal that aims at ending New Delhi’s isolation from the global nuclear fold after nearly three decades.
“It is in India’s interest. It is India’s decision,” he added in a bid to stress that what he was saying was not a pressure tactic but a statement of facts.
Biden is heading an American delegation that includes Kerry and Chuck Hagel, a Republican senator, both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The three US senators, who flew in here after observing Monday’s polls in Pakistan, met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and discussed the entire spectrum of 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 said he will pursue it,” Biden replied while alluding to domestic politics in India, specially the opposition of the government’s Leftist allies that has cast a shadow over the future of the deal.
India is likely to finalise a safeguards pact with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) later this month.
But the Left parties have to approve the 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) have to approve the India-US nuclear deal and change its guidelines allowing for resumption of global civil nuclear cooperation with New Delhi. The bilateral India-US civil cooperation agreement, better known as the 123 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.
“Our common interests go beyond the nuclear agreement. We need to be partners and stay engaged,” said Hagel, a senior Republican senator from Nebraska.
“A number of senators will be very sad if the deal does not go through. A number of Democratic senators are ready to vote for the deal,” he said while underlining that the Democrats, who are seen to be hawkish on nuclear non-proliferation issues, were ready to vote due to their belief in the India-US relationship.