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US keen on N-deal, says Bush aide

india Updated: Feb 13, 2008 12:05 IST
Arun Kumar

The US says it will continue to work with India to make the "carefully done" civil nuclear deal happen, in the hope that New Delhi will see the benefits in the agreement.

President George W Bush hasn't been in touch with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about it recently, "but obviously at the State Department they're in touch with them quite regularly", White House spokesperson Dana Perino said on Tuesday.

Asked if Washington was concerned about Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general secretary Prakash Karat's reported remarks that India should hold talks with the new US government after the November poll - following US ambassador to India David Mulford suggesting that it was a "now or never" deal - she parried: "Well, I hadn't seen those remarks."

"What I can say about the civil nuclear arrangement between us and India is that it's something that we would like very much for our country to be able to enter into agreement with India," Perino said.

The US believes "that nuclear power is a good thing for the environment, and it's a good thing for powering both electricity for homes and for businesses", she said.

"And a country like India needs to think about how it's going to diversify its resources, not only for how (to) make sure that the lights turn on when the kids are at home trying to do their homework, but also because they are facing environmental problems, especially in regards to coal that is burned...for the problems in people's respiratory health, as well as problems in water," Perino said.

"So this agreement is one that we have done very carefully, through the State Department. We're trying to work with India. We would hope that they would see the benefits in it, and we continue to work with them to try to make it happen."

The White House comments follow similar remarks made in London by Washington's key negotiator on the deal, Nicholas Burns, that he was in agreement with Mulford. "We don't have all the time in the world ...and I would say that it's time to move this agreement forward," he said.

"We are, quite famously, in an election year in the United States. The Congressional calendar is crowded," he said at the Foreign Press Association, London, according to the transcript of the interaction posted on the State Department website.

This agreement, after the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group accomplish it, needs to come back to the Congress of the US for one final vote. "We have broad bipartisan support, but it needs to get there."

"...And so while I wouldn't want to say anything that would, in any way, intrude on domestic politics in India, from an international point of view, and given the fact that we're one of the negotiating partners, we do need to complete the agreement, and we're ready," Burns said.

However, he distanced himself from Mulford's "now or never" remark, saying: "I didn't say that."

"What I said was what I said, that it's an important agreement and that we should now move forward to complete it. And that means that we would hope for expeditious action on this agreement by all concerned, including the Indian government.

Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, who himself is leaving the State Department in March but would continue to work on the India file for some time more, said he was "very much involved in this agreement".

"...And I've been in touch with the Indian government as recently as Thursday and Friday of last week," he said, describing the deal as "an agreement that is entirely in the best interests of both countries".

"It's going to bring India out of its nuclear isolation dating back to the mid-1970s. It's going to allow civil nuclear trade of all countries with India, the provision of nuclear fuel, the construction of nuclear power reactors."

"It will allow India to go from three percent reliance on nuclear energy, hopefully to say 20-25 percent in a generation, with enormously positive benefits for global climate change and carbon reductions in the process. So, there's a lot to like in this agreement," Burns said.