Caught in a bind between the government’s commitment to the civil nuclear deal with the United States and its commitment to the Left, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is walking a thin line between 'discussion' and 'negotiation' of the deal with interlocutors in the US. <b1>
While India’s Ambassador to the US Ronen Sen and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon are actively engaging with officials from countries in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Mukherjee is using his bilateral and multilateral meetings on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly to discuss a broader agenda, official sources said.
Among those he met in New York was Dmitrj Rupel, Foreign Minister of Slovenia,which is set to take over the Presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2008. According to sources, Mukherjee said there were issues to sort out when Rupel asked him how soon India would sign the nuclear deal.
Mukherjee is due to meet US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at her office in Washington on Thursday where among other issues, he will explain the government’s position on the next steps of the civil nuclear deal. There is a “strong possibility,” sources said, that President George Bush would ‘drop by’ during Mukherjee’s meeting with Rice.
The US Secretary of State had expressed concern about the fate of the nuclear deal with India when asked in an interview to the Reuters board about her ‘legacy’. “With 14 months to go, I’m worrying about what we’ve yet achieved…with the India civil nuclear deal,” Rice said.
Later on Thursday, Rice is chairing a meeting of Major Economies on Energy Security and Climate Change in the US capital, at which Mukherjee is likely to speak on the peaceful nature of India’s nuclear programme and stress the need for civil nuclear power to boost India’s energy mix.
India had declined the invitation to attend the meeting when it was called the ‘Major Emitter’s’ meeting and accepted only when the name of the Washington conference was amended, official sources said.
Mukherjee, who heads the ‘mechanism’ between the UPA government and its Left allies on the civil nuclear deal with the United States, is ensuring that discussions during his visit do not queer the pitch for the government before the October 5 meeting, even though senior government officials said they were working to go ahead with the next steps, which include preparing for the safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency.