Rice to skip Manmohan-Bush meet to get n-deal done (Lead)

September 25th, 2008 - 9:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghWashington/New York, Sep 25 (IANS) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will skip the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George Bush here today as she works the phone from New York to get the India-US civil nuclear deal done.Rice “just took a look at her schedule” and “felt as though it was for her best to stay up here,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in New York Wednesday as the administration kept up its push to win Congressional approval for the deal.

“The fact that we have had intensive consultations with Indian officials over the past couple of weeks, nearly constant communication, I would say, about the civilian nuclear deal, that she felt as though it was for her best to stay up here,” he said.

Instead of Rice, Deputy Secretary of State “John Negroponte, who has been deeply involved in this issue as well,” would represent the State Department at the the White House meetings between Bush, Manmohan Singh and their top aides.

Rice was to join Bush at his “working dinner” with the Indian leader flying in from New York for just a few hours to meet the man with whom had visualised the landmark nuclear agreement in a joint statement July 18, 2005.

US Vice-President Dick Cheney and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns will be among others present from the American side.

From the Indian side Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma, National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on the nuclear deal and climate change Shyam Saran and India’s ambassador to US Ronen Sen will be attending.

Asked if Rice’s decision to stay back represented in any way her confidence or lack of confidence, McCormack said: “Oh, no. Please - no, please don’t, in any way, interpret it as that. Like I said, this is an issue that she has really been quite seized with over the past month in a very intensive way.

“As a matter of fact, I know that she was making calls to Capitol Hill from New York today about this issue. So it should in no way be read as a diminution in her level of effort to try get this passed,” he said.

The spokesman said the administration was doing everything to get Congressional approval for this “very important step for American foreign policy and national security” even as the legislature grapples with the crisis to save the US financial system.

“We’re working with the Congress. We take this step by step,” McCormack said. “We’re going to do everything we can to help the Congress in terms of information, briefings, phone calls, whatever we need to do so that they can move this forward through both houses.”

“I know it’s a busy time on the calendar up there, but this is a very important step for American foreign policy and national security,” he added.

McCormack said Rice had been making calls to lawmakers practically every day to get the India deal done. “I can’t tell you. I’m - it seems like it’s almost every other day or every few days she’s involved in a phone call up to the Hill,” he said.

Asked why was she still making calls though the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s approval of the India deal had given it an impetus, he said:

“Just - it’s good to stay - no, it - just because you have a phone call doesn’t mean there’s a problem.”

“What it means is she wants to stay in close contact with members of Congress, answer any questions, get their assessment of where we stand in the process,” McCormack said adding, “It’s just good politics, I guess you could say, to keep open lines of communication on this.”

Asked what was keeping Rice in New York instead of being in Washington, the offical said: “Look, you make these decisions every day about how to allocate time and effort and energy.

“She’s dedicating a lot of time and effort and energy to getting the India civil nuclear deal passed, and she made the call that she had other meetings that she was going to participate in here.

“And like I said, Deputy Secretary Negroponte is going to be representing the State Department at the White House,” he said dismissing Rice’s decision to stay back as just “rearranging the schedule.”

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