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N-deal action shifts back to New Delhi

india Updated: Mar 03, 2008 01:00 IST
Amit Baruah
Amit Baruah
Hindustan Times
N-deal action shifts back to New Delhi

The next steps are known, but political uncertainties continue to snap at the heels of the July 2005 civil nuclear agreement between India and the US. With the talks on a safeguards agreement between India and the IAEA almost done, the scene has again shifted to New Delhi.

“We will be looking at the outcome of the talks between our team and the IAEA. After that, we will decide when to place their findings before the United Progressive Alliance-Left panel,” a top government source told HT.

Given that the Left parties don’t appear to be in a mood to play ball with the government on the deal, what happens if the safeguards agreement is torpedoed at the committee? “There’s no point in getting into such speculation,” said the source.

At the highest levels in the UPA, there is awareness that the “next step” in the nuclear deal could, of course, impact the agreement itself or the longevity of the government. It is this realisation that made the UPA go slow in the negotiations at the IAEA.

According to sources, “several options” have been agreed upon with the IAEA as far as the supply of nuclear fuel to India, or New Delhi’s right to take corrective measures is concerned.

After this, the understanding between India and the IAEA appears to be that the “options” that New Delhi prefers could be closed without another round of talks. In that sense, the text appears to have been frozen, but a political call in New Delhi on the nuances is being seen as a must.

On the IAEA front, India is, clearly, not going to be able to get the safeguards agreement through the Agency board at its meeting beginning on Monday. Of course, the IAEA can convene a special board meeting should New Delhi signal to Vienna that it is ready to move forward with the safeguards agreement.

Before such a special board is convened, the draft of the agreement would have to be circulated to all member countries. For that to happen, New Delhi will have to convey to the IAEA what it thinks of the “options” in the text.
The “go slow” at the IAEA, in a sense, bought some time for the UPA, but that option seems to be closing now. The government, soon enough, will have to take a call on what to do with “closing” the safeguards agreement with the IAEA.
If current status and on-the-record statements of the CPI(M) and CPI are anything to go by,
including their positions in the last session of Parliament, then the safeguards agreement draft is set to fall in the UPA-Left panel.

“The Party decided to oppose the nuclear agreement as it was the cementing factor for such an (Indo-US) alliance. The Party and the Left decided that it would do whatever is necessary to block the agreement. Faced with the political consequences of such a confrontation with the Left, the Congress and the UPA decided not to proceed further with the operationalisation of the agreement,” the draft resolution holds.