CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat's suggestion that the government should wait six months before proceeding with the India-US civil nuclear deal would effectively kill the deal, US Ambassador to India David Mulford indicated.
<b1>"Time is of the essence," Mulford said in a speech on Tuesday. "Now we must take the last steps. This involves completing the IAEA safeguards agreement and securing the Nuclear Suppliers Group rule change. Finally the US Congress must vote once more on the 123 agreement, an agreement best accomplished by this administration in the life of this Congress," Mulford said.
Western diplomats said there was no way the deal could wait beyond the end of January because in election year, the US Congress held fewer sittings and would be consumed by more pressing domestic matters.
"What the hell does six months mean?" asked K Santhanam, former director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. "The Left appears willing to wound, but afraid to strike," Santhanam told HT, implying they did not want to be seen to be pulling down the government.
"These guys are Rip Van Winkles, trying to rip the nation off," Santhanam said, pointing out that there were several "necessary steps" that must be taken before the deal could be ratified.
<b2>While senior officials in the government said the deal would not necessarily get "killed" technically, the delay would inevitably "put the process in cold storage".
According to K Subrahmanyam, head of a Task Force appointed to review the government's nuclear policy, if the government decides to accept Karat's advice, "the deal becomes very uncertain."
However, the Left had yet to define what they meant by the term "operationalise". "The word 'operationalise' has not been defined by Karat. (Kapil) Sibal has said that signing of the deal would be operationalising it. If that is the case and if the signing of the deal is six months later, there is no problem," he said. Subrahmanyam did not think the government would heed Karat's suggestion, as it was informally going ahead with the next steps. There are a few necessary steps that have to be taken immediately for India to return to the international nuclear mainstream, outlined in the joint statement issued by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee in July.
"The next steps include India negotiating a safeguards agreement with the IAEA and support for nuclear trade with India from the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group. Once these additional actions have been completed, President Bush will submit the text of the agreement to the US Congress for final approval," the statement said.
"Why six months? He (Karat) doesn't want elections in six months," said Arundhati Ghose, a member of the Task Force to review the government's nuclear policies. "The text of a framework agreement for safeguards is ready and up for informal negotiations. At the NSG, the US will have to do most of the work," Ghose said.
"I don't see the government agreeing to this condition. Karat's statement appears more to be a response to (Kapil) Sibal," Ghose said.