Bush team making all out push for n-deal

February 26th, 2008 - 10:39 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pratibha Patil
By Arun Kumar
Washington, Feb 26 (IANS) The Bush administration here is making an all-out push to finalise the landmark civil nuclear agreement with India, a deal that the US president wants to leave as his major lasting legacy as he sprints towards the end of his term. “We are in touch with different levels of government throughout - here and at the National Security Council and the State Department,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said Monday amid signs of fresh movement in New Delhi.

“Well, we have a little bit more time, obviously, on the calendar before the end of the president’s term,” she said when asked what Bush thinks about the deal that has stalled so close to the finish line due to opposition from the Indian government’s Left allies.

“But if there’s internal pressure in India for them to move more quickly, I think that’s good,” said Perino, commenting on the reported July deadline for the deal set by a group of US senators during a recent visit to New Delhi.

“And I saw a report today that (Monday) said that there are some elements within India that are very supportive of getting the deal done,” she added.

Asked if Bush is in touch with anybody in New Delhi to get the deal done, Perino said: “We are in touch with different levels of government throughout - here and at the National Security Council and the State Department.”

The White House comments came as Indian President Pratibha Patil told parliament Monday that India was still hopeful of clinching the nuclear deal with the US and New Delhi began another round of talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.

The extension to Indian ambassador to the US, Ronen Sen, who was all set to return home at the end of his term March 31 also assumes significance in this context. Sen along with Prime Minister’s special envoy Shyam Saran, has been one of India’s key interlocutors on the deal.

Sen’s extension came days after US ambassador to India David Mulford suggested that it was “now or never” for the deal. This was followed by three senators led by Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate foreign affairs committee, telling Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the Congressional clock was ticking towards a July deadline.

But New Delhi still has to contend with a “veto” from its Left allies before the government approaches the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group after reaching an agreement with the IAEA for India-specific safeguards for its civilian nuclear reactors.

It’s only after India gets clearance from the NSG that governs global civilian nuclear trade that the implementing 123 agreement finalised last July can go for a final approval before the US Congress.

The deal does enjoy bipartisan support in the Congress but its passage could be complicated by the short legislative calendar ahead of the Nov 4 election. In case the outgoing Congress fails to approve the deal, Bush’s successor administration could seek renegotiation of the terms.

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