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N-deal: little room left for negotiations

There is a belated recognition in the Govt that PM's drawing of "red lines" in Parliament last year has left little elbow room for negotiations on key issues.

india Updated: May 01, 2007 00:56 IST

Even as India and the US hold talks on Tuesday on a civil nuclear pact, there is a belated recognition in the government that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's drawing of "red lines" in Parliament last year has left little elbow room for negotiations on key issues.

"We have painted ourselves into a corner," a reliable source privy to the nuclear deal negotiations said.

"It's no longer diplomacy. It's English now," the source added while alluding to semantic quibbles that will be involved in finalising the text of the 123 agreement.

He was referring to Manmohan Singh's assurances in the Rajya Sabha on August 17 last year in which he laid down "red lines" which India will not cross in the course of negotiations on civil nuclear cooperation with the US.

"Now, we can't be seen to be conceding even slightly on these assurances given by the prime minister to Parliament," said the source.

The source, who was speaking to journalists on the condition of anonymity, admitted that if things were left a little open-ended, negotiations would not be so difficult now.

Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon will hold talks with Nicholas Burns, the US' chief pointman on the nuclear deal, in Washington on Tuesday to iron out major differences over the text of the 123 agreement which will pave the way for resumption of nuclear commerce between the two sides.

The prime minister's assurances to parliament last year were made in the face of a combative and sceptical opposition, most notably the Leftist allies of the ruling coalition and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, which were insisting on a parliamentary resolution on the nuclear deal.

In an important speech, Manmohan Singh assured that India would never compromise on its strategic autonomy and repudiated any attempt to impose a ban on nuclear testing and a moratorium on the production of fissile materials.

"We are not prepared to go beyond a unilateral voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing. We are not willing to accept a moratorium on the production of fissile materials," he had said.

The rigidity of New Delhi's stand on these critical issues has led to a hardening of Washington's positions as well and sparked apprehensions in some quarters that the deal itself was in danger of collapsing. The US is pushing for including a ban on nuclear testing by India that is not acceptable to the latter on grounds that it will be tantamount to sneaking a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) through the back door.

Washington has insisted on a clause that will terminate all civilian nuclear cooperation with New Delhi should the latter conduct a nuclear test.

Before he left for Washington, Menon told a parliamentary panel about the "red lines" laid down by Manmohan Singh in parliament last year and said he will go strictly by these guidelines which "command broad support across the political spectrum."