The Congress leadership is likely to initiate talks next week with the four Left parties, notably the CPM, on the modalities of the proposed mechanism to allay their concerns on the India-specific Hyde Act of the United States.
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee briefed the Congress's core group, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party president Sonia Gandhi on Friday. While Sonia was away to South Africa, Mukherjee had engaged in back-channel "diplomacy" with CPM's Sitaram Yechury to scale down tensions and prepare the climate for a dialogue on the issue that has raised questions about the viability of the UPA-Left partnership and its implications on the longevity of the Congress-led government.
It was not immediately clear whether the talks between the Congress and the four Left parties would begin straightaway at the level of the Congress president. But well-placed sources said that the PM and Sonia might come into the picture after a preliminary round with other functionaries.
From the Left parties' perspective, an early understanding on making the operationalisation of the deal contingent on the decision in the talks-mechanism would enable an early parliamentary debate on the issue. "This will also ensure a proper culmination of the discussions in the two Houses," a senior Left leader told HT.
In the back-channel discussions between the CPM and the Congress, it has been broadly agreed to have representatives from both sides on the proposed mechanism for talks. The advice of scientists and diplomats will be available to them while they go through various provisions of the Hyde Act and the bearing they have on India's sovereignty and independent foreign policy.
All members of the core group, barring HRD Minister Arjun Singh, who is away to Mumbai, attended the meeting at the PM's 7 Race Course Road residence. The discussions followed Yechury's comments to the media that his party only wanted the government to press the "pause" and not the "eject" button on the 123 agreement.
Yechury's comments were measured and indicated a desire to break the ice on the nuclear issue through a dialogue. He said the CPM wanted the government to clarify the implications of the Hyde Act on the bilateral Indo-US agreement initialed by the two countries.
Responding to questions on the possibility of the crisis causing the government's fall, the CPM leader said: "I don't see a crisis. Where was it and where has it gone?"