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Left talks tough before meet on US nuclear deal

india Updated: Sep 11, 2007 17:55 IST
Kamil Zaheer
Kamil Zaheer
Reuters
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Communists showed no signs of compromise on Tuesday as they prepared for crucial talks with the government over their opposition to a controversial nuclear deal with the United States.

A panel of senior government and communist leaders was due to meet for the first time later on Tuesday, in what is likely to be a long-drawn-out process meant to narrow down differences over the nuclear pact.

But a spokesman for the largest communist party said the government has violated a deal with its left-wing allies that brought it to power in 2004 by agreeing to the nuclear pact.

"The government should comply with the Common Minimum Programme (CMP), otherwise its legitimacy becomes non-existent," said Nilotpal Basu, spokesman for the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M).

A key aspect of the CMP is the pursuance of an independent foreign policy, which the left says Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may have undermined by finalising in July the India-US civilian nuclear deal, known as the "123 Agreement".

CPI (M) general secretary Prakash Karat was reported to have warned the government this weekend that the Congress party-led government would have to decide between US President George W. Bush and its deal with the left.

Karat's party is the biggest of four communist parties, which together have 60 MPs in the 545-member lower house of parliament and give the government a majority. Their trenchant opposition to the deal has prompted speculation about early elections.

The India-US pact allows the United States to export nuclear fuel and reactors to India, despite New Delhi having tested atomic weapons and not having signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The pact is seen as a symbol of increasingly friendly ties between the two powerful democracies, as well as important for India's search for energy sources. But critics say it undermines global efforts to contain nuclear proliferation.

Having and eating cake

The act was approved by the US Congress in December, as a unique exception to American export law to allow nuclear cooperation with India after a gap of three decades.

"It turns us from nuclear outcastes to mainstream decision-makers," said Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi in the Times of India on Tuesday.

"India has been allowed to have its cake and eat it too."

The communists also say that the deal would draw India into a wider US strategic plan -- including moves to "contain" China -- and would undermine New Delhi's independent foreign policy.

This month, India joined the United States and navies from Australia, Singapore and Japan in the Bay of Bengal for the largest peacetime exercises between New Delhi and Washington.

The left organised street protests against the exercises.