N-deal can still be done: US

April 4th, 2008 - 10:13 am ICT by admin  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, April 4 (IANS) The US says its stalled civil nuclear deal with India could still be done before President George Bush leaves office next January, while conceding that it may have to be taken up by his successor. “No. We certainly believe it is still possible for this deal to move forward and for our Congress to have an opportunity to consider it,” State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said Thursday, denying suggestions that the administration was losing hope about getting it done during Bush’s tenure.

“It ain’t over till it’s over,” he said, suggesting: “Congress will be in session for quite a bit ways more this year and we would certainly hope to have an opportunity to present them with this agreement and give them a chance to vote on it.”

“We do, though, respect the fact that there are still issues that the Indian political system needs to work through,” Casey said, referring to the opposition of Indian government’s Left supporters that has put the deal in a limbo. “That’s been the case for a while, but we certainly hope we can get there.”

Recalling the public comments of US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s comments during his recent visit to Washington, he said: “We certainly would like to see this deal concluded as soon as possible.”

However, acknowledging it would be tough to beat the clock, Casey said: “And we, of course, have our own calendar in terms of elections and a legislative timetable.

“So certainly, I think time is running out to be able to give this current Congress the opportunity to consider this arrangement.”

“Obviously, though, there would be opportunities in future congresses and with the future administration to move forward on this,” Casey said conceding that Bush may have to rest content with leaving what he hoped would be his legacy to the next occupant of the White House.

“We continue to believe that the civil nuclear deal is good, not only for India and for the United States, but also good in terms of strengthening the non-proliferation regimes that are out there,” he said.

“And that’s why Mohamed El Baradei, director general, International Atomic Energy Agency, among others, has endorsed it and supports it,” Casey said. “But we also understand that the Indian government has some decisions to make and has some internal issues that it needs to resolve before it can move forward.”

Reflecting the US view that the nuclear deal was the symbolic centrepiece of its new strategic partnership with India, he said: “The other thing I think is important to remember, though, too, is there really has been - and this arrangement is symbolic of it - a tremendous change and very positive change in overall US-Indian relations.

“And frankly, regardless of whether this arrangement is passed in the next year or not, one thing that I don’t think will change is the continuing strengthening and deepening of the US-Indian relationship that has begun under this Administration, and we certainly hope will continue into the future,” Casey said.

Asked if non-completion of the deal would raise concerns about the reliability of the Indian government to honour future agreements, the spokesman said: “We’ve had a good relationship with India.

“We have now strengthened that relationship over the past few years, broadened it, deepened it in terms of our economic interests, in terms of some of our political cooperation. I expect that’s going to continue.”

“Certainly, we believe this is an important deal, something that is important for the people of both countries, and we’d like to see it move forward,” he repeated.

“And we certainly haven’t given up on the idea that it, in fact, could move forward during the course of the coming year. So let’s see where we wind up before we start issuing any kind of final judgments on it,” Casey said.

Asked if Nick Burns, Washington’s former chief negotiator on the deal who quit a couple of months ago was still working on it, the spokesman suggested he “is certainly keeping close tabs on this” even though he was not directly participating in the meetings with Rice and Mukherjee.

Besides Rice, US ambassador to India David Mulford and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, who had been involved in the discussions from the beginning on achieving the nuclear agreement and in trying to move it forward, were still involved in it, he said.

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