Scotching speculation about early polls, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has made it clear that the survival of the government was more important than the Indo-US nuclear deal and Left parties will have to be taken on board.
He ruled out the possibility of a minority government signing the nuclear agreement, saying the US was not ready for it.
Mukherjee also said that India had not conducted negotiations on the agreement with a "fixed timeline", in an apparent response to the US which has set the deadline of May.
"We are trying to evolve a consensus and first the consensus will be with the supporting parties because that is the primary importance for which the (UPA-Left) mechanism was created. Then we shall try to evolve a larger consensus," he said in an interview to
He said the government will have to discuss the India-IAEA safeguards agreement with the Left but declined to elaborate.
On the speculation about early polls, Mukherjee said "nobody is talking of elections now except journalists."
When pointed out that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi had said in October last that survival of the government is more important than the deal, he said "that position is still there."
He added "what the Congress President says is the final word of the party and what the Prime Minister says is the final word of the government."
Asked why the deal was taking longer than envisaged, Mukherjee said "it can't be helped. We will have to get the Left's support because they are supporting the government. And if the government does not exist, how can there be an agreement. So, we shall have to carry them with us, if possible."
He was asked what could be a 'face-saver' for the Left. "I am not concerned with face-saving. We are engaged in discussions. If it materialises, it materialises. If it doesn't, it doesn't."
Queried on the future course if the Left did not come around, he said "then I don't know what will happen. Then the Congress leadership, the UPA leadership will have to take a final view."
On the possibility of a minority government signing the agreement, the External Affairs said "that I checked with them (the US) that are you ready ? They said no, how is it possible? How could it be because the next incumbent government may not agree to it. That's the compulsion for us. A minority government cannot, need not and should not sign a major agreement like this".
On whether the government was hopeful of BJP's support for the nuclear deal, he said "I have neither hope nor disappointment."
The minister was non-committal on whether a draft agreement has been finalised with IAEA. "A draft is a draft. When it is final, it will be final."
Asked whether there would be any more talks with IAEA, he said "it will depend on how things develop".
When pointed out that the timeline to conclude the deal is getting tighter, Mukherjee responded: "We never started with a fixed timeline. We did not say that this is the time by which I shall complete. I am just telling you that we trying."
About his visit to the US later this month, he said it was "absolutely bilateral" and had nothing to do with the negotiations with IAEA, although the issue may come up at the discussions in Washington.