N-deal: Too early to cry ‘now or never’ says reassured US

March 26th, 2008 - 11:24 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Arun Kumar
Washington, March 26 (IANS) As India reiterated its keenness to implement its stalled civil nuclear deal with the US, the White House responded with a reassurance that there was still some time before one could say “now or never”. “Well, we have a little bit of time before we have to say ‘now or never’”, press secretary Dana Perino declared Tuesday as the External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee left after telling President George W. Bush of the political hurdles back home holding up the deal.

“We’ve got several months to continue to work with them,” Perino said when asked if Bush too had given the same message to the Indian minister as several US lawmakers had done recently in suggesting a June-July deadline to get Congressional approval for the implementing 123 agreement, given the US election calendar.

“And actually that deal is supported by bipartisan members on Capitol Hill, as well, so they’re helping to move this along,” said Perino though she was still to “get an update” on Bush’s Monday meeting with Mukherjee at the White House.

The White House remarks came shortly after Mukherjee told a press conference Tuesday at the end of his two day visit to the US that India wanted to implement the nuclear deal, while making clear that no deadline could be set for doing so.

He also indicated that the ruling United Progressive Alliance was not prepared to sacrifice the government for the sake of the deal which Bush, who looks at it as a major foreign policy initiative of his administration, is keen to complete before he leaves office in January 2009.

“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. “It may take some more time.”

Besides meeting Bush and having extensive discussions with Condoleeza Rice, Mukherjee also shared “Perspectives on India-US relations” with a group of scholars at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace during his first visit to US as foreign minister.

“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 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 implementing 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 reiterating, “We are interested in ratifying the agreement.” But he insisted a time frame couldn’t 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 political views on the nuclear deal with even the opposition Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which 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. 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, Mukherjee said 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.

Making his first visit to the US as the foreign minister in the Manmohan Singh government, 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 also came up for discussion.

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