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US keeps prodding India on nuclear deal

india Updated: Dec 11, 2007 11:42 IST
Arun Kumar
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Amid reports of a widening rift between the Indian government and its communist allies, Washington is trying to push New Delhi to reconcile their differences to let the India-US civil nuclear deal move forward.

"Well, we certainly have been involved," White House press secretary Dana Perino said on Monday when asked if President George Bush is in touch with anybody in India or if they have briefed him on this issue.

Washington's chief interlocutor on the nuclear deal, Nick Burns "has certainly been trying to push India to try to reconcile their differences so that we can move forward," she said. "We think it's a very important programme."

Perino's remarks about the US push follow a renewed warning by Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Prakash Karat that the Left will not let the government go ahead with the deal after talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). A team of Indian officials from the Department of Atomic Energy is already in Vienna to negotiate with IAEA an India specific safeguards protocol acknowledging the separation of the New Delhi's civilian and military nuclear programmes.

While leftist opponents of the nuclear deal say they reserve the right to reject the deal after the IAEA talks, its critics on the right led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) want the implementing 123 agreement, finalised last July, to be renegotiated.

But Burns, US under secretary of state for political affairs, told a media roundtable in Singapore last week that he did not foresee the 123 agreement "being re-opened, by either side."

"That agreement is finished, it's done, it's completed, it just stands to be approved finally by both governments," he said according to the official transcript of the interaction.

"I think with goodwill and hard work, it will be. But I do not foresee it being re-opened, by either side. Not by the United States, and I don't think by India either," he added.

"We are confident that this deal should go forward; of course, we now need to wait for the Indian government to make a final decision on putting the safeguards agreement forward," Burns said outlining the steps to follow.

"And then of course, the step after that will be the Nuclear Suppliers Group, to convince the 45 members to act by consensus to support international change, to treat India in a more fair and effective manner.

"Then there will be a final vote in the US Congress, we hope at the very beginning of 2008. And then this deal will be finished," Burns said.

A State Department spokesman too said last week that Washington would very much like to see the India-US nuclear deal move forward and finalised, but it does understand that the Indian Government needs to work though its own political process.

It was "ready and able to move forward whenever they would like us to," spokesman Tom Casey said, adding that with India emerging as an increasingly important player on the world stage, Washington is going to continue to expand its relations with New Delhi regardless of the outcome of their nuclear deal.