Efforts are on to salvage the civil nuclear deal with the United States by making it appear less US-centric and more of a broad-based initiative.
The government is looking at its supporters within the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) co-sponsoring a broader resolution seeking a waiver for India to begin civil nuclear commerce with countries of the group.
Among the countries from which India expects support to co-sponsor a resolution at the NSG are Russia, France, Germany, Britain, Brazil, South Africa and even Japan besides, of course, the United States.
The idea being that if an India-specific waiver is not seen as a purely US proposal, it will be easier to reach a consensus not only at the NSG, but also with the UPA government’s Left allies.
Significantly, both CPI(M) leaders, Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury have held late night meetings over the past week with External Affairs Minister (and UPA ‘mechanism’ coordinator) Pranab Mukherjee at his residence.
According to sources, it has been pointed out to the Left that not only India’s relations with the United States, but even relations with traditional ‘comrades’, Russia, would suffer if the civil nuclear cooperation deal was not operationalised, with India-specific safeguards at the IAEA and an India-specific waiver at the NSG.
Given its Left Front allies stiff opposition to closer strategic relations with the United States, the UPA government has asked officials to explore a variety of options to make the deal more palatable to the Left. Several high-ranking government officials, when asked, did not deny that such efforts were on.
“Several options are being explored,” a senior official said, adding that the “sequencing,” of events was “not critical.”
The stated sequence since India initialled the 123 Agreement with the United States in July is to first go to the IAEA, then to the NSG and finally to the US Congress for an ‘up-down’ vote.
According to another official, however, the government has issued instructions not to carry negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) forward until the Left-UPA mechanism arrives at an “understanding.”
Given the slightly changed tenor of the Left front leaders’ statements on Monday in opposing the civil nuclear cooperation deal, the efforts could result in what sources termed a “positive” outcome.
Among the key items on the India-Russia bilateral agenda is enhanced civil nuclear cooperation, with Russia likely to be a major beneficiary as a supplier of nuclear reactors and fuel if India can legally resume international nuclear commerce.
In Moscow, where he is visiting, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for “Russia’s steadfast support in supplementing India's nuclear energy programme and his assistance in lifting international restrictions on nuclear cooperation with India”.