With politics at home in a state of flux, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh leaves on Monday for the G8 summit in Japan, to join world leaders in talks to tackle challenges facing the global economy — from spiraling oil prices and inflation to climate change and food riots.
For the Indian prime minister, however, his bilateral interaction with other leaders on the sidelines of the summit will be more crucial, with the nuclear deal taking centrestage at several of these meetings.
What will likely hog the limelight is a scheduled meeting between Singh and US President George W. Bush on Wednesday morning. Both are expected to discuss issues of mutual interest and the progress of the nuclear deal that seeks to end a ban on India’s access to the global nuclear fuel and technology market, sources in the government said.
The outcome would be keenly watched by Singh’s supporters as well as opponents back home, especially the Left, which has threatened to withdraw support if the government takes forward a proposed safeguard agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
As Singh talks nuke and other issues with Bush and other leaders in the picturesque Hokkaido island in northern Japan, his party would be busy drumming up support in an eventual withdrawal of support by the Left. Communist parties have said they will likely wait until the prime minister returns on Thursday to take a final call.
Proceeding with the agreement with IAEA is crucial to bringing the deal into operation as it would form the basis for the 44-country Nuclear Suppliers’ Group to decide whether or not to make an exception for India, which has not signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and yet wants access to nuclear fuel and technology from other countries.
Besides G-8 countries — the US, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia, leaders from the so-called O5 countries — Brazil, China, South Africa, Mexico and India — will be attending the three-day meeting, starting Monday. Australia, Indonesia and South Korea will also be joining.
“Most of these countries are members of the NSG,” said Foreign Secretary Shiv Shanker Menon, indicating Singh would also be discussing the nuclear issue with some of them.
“We have been in touch with the NSG,” Menon said, while briefing reporters on Friday about the prime minister's visit. “We want to go ahead with the (nuclear deal). We will do our best to go ahead with it as soon as we can.”