India keen on nuclear deal, but not at the cost of government: Mukherjee

March 26th, 2008 - 2:30 am ICT by admin  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, March 26 (IANS) External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee Tuesday reiterated India’s desire to implement its stalled civil nuclear deal with the US, but made clear that the ruling coalition was not prepared to sacrifice the government for it. “At this juncture I cannot indicate any time frame by which we can complete the process” of resolving problems with the government’s Left supporters who are opposed to the deal, he said while addressing a press conference at the end of his two day visit to the US.

“It may take some more time,” said Mukherjee who met President George W. Bush and had extensive discussions with Condoleeza Rice besides sharing “perspectives on India-US relations” with a group of scholars at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“My discussions with the US leadership reinforced our view that the India-US relationship is robust and forward-leaning and answers to the interests of both countries,” he said noting, “We have a commonality of views in terms of our objectives.”

“It’s not a question of sacrificing either the government or the deal,” he said when asked if the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was willing to sacrifice the government for the sake of the deal if no consensus was reached before the July deadline set by US lawmakers for ratification of the 123 agreement.

“The events have their own momentum,” said Mukherjee. “If we can evolve a consensus, it’s possible to hasten the process. Let’s see how things move,” he said adding, “We are interested in ratifying the agreement”.

However he insisted that a time frame could not be fixed.

The minister did say that he had discussed with the US leadership “the way forward on opening civil nuclear cooperation by India with USA and other partners as a critical element of our energy security”.

However, he did not spell out the steps the two sides proposed to take if the Left sticks to its guns on the nuclear deal.

Mukherjee agreed with a questioner that the Indian constitution did not make a distinction between a minority and a majority government and it was quite competent to sign the nuclear deal in the event of the Left pulling the plug on it.

However, he noted there were divergent views on the nuclear deal with even the opposition Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) that was in power for six years before the UPA expressing opposition to it.

“We shall have to take that into account before signing an important international agreement. If it is not honoured by the next government, it would lead to an embarrassing situation,” Mukherjee said.

“We want to avoid such a situation. That’s why this exercise,” he said referring to efforts to evolve a consensus. “We are engaged in trying to find out if there is a meeting ground between us and our supporters.”

Asked to spell out the sticking points that were holding up the evolution of a consensus on the deal, Mukherjee said: “They have their own ideological perceptions… They feel we should not enter into this arrangement with USA.They also feel that India should explore the possibility of getting clean energy from its abundant resources of coal or from hydel power.”

Mukherhee said that there were divergent views on the issue, but an overwhelming consensus was in favour of nuclear technology.

New Delhi was keen on the nuclear deal because India was energy deficient and wanted to have a source of clean energy as also to maintain the tempo of development with a GDP growth rate of 8-9 percent over the next 20 years, he added.

Making his first visit to the US, Mukherjee said he had also discussed with Bush and Rice “several regional and international issues” including developments in many countries in our region, climate change and a successful conclusion of the Doha development.

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