With the India-US civil nuclear deal embroiled in a standoff between the government and its Left allies, US ambassador David Mulford on Tuesday asked India to take the "last steps" so that the deal can be endorsed by Congress well in time before Washington moves into election mode next year.
"Now we must take the final steps. Time is of the essence," Mulford said at the fourth India-US economic summit.
"This involves India completing the safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the rule change by the Nuclear Suppliers Group which will permit this initiative to be global in scope," he said.
"Finally, the US Congress must vote on the 123 agreement and this action is best accomplished by this administration in the life of this Congress," Mulford said.
"Time is of essence in dealing with the next step. The US has reached an agreement with the government of India. However, there are some things that need to be done," Mulford later told reporters on the sidelines of the conference when asked whether he envisaged a time frame for completing the path-breaking nuclear deal that will re-open doors of global nuclear commerce for India after a gap of three decades.
"We know there is a political process. We are patiently observing it and looking forward to finishing the process," he said when asked what he thought of Communist leader Prakash Karat's warning asking the government to put the deal on hold for six months.
<b1>"The bottom line is that when these final steps are taken, India's isolation in the global civil nuclear field will end. This will enable India to launch a new large-scale industry of its own and pioneer a new era to meet its energy needs which will ultimately benefit its own people," the envoy said.
"This new course will move us from 123 (bilateral nuclear agreement) to 456... This is the broader long-term vision for the India-US relations that touches all fields of human endeavour of which civil nuclear is an important part but only one part of the larger whole," he added.
The US envoy reminded the audience of his upbeat prediction last year when he said that the Hyde Act will be passed by the US Congress with a large majority to underline the point that this time around also, the US Congress will pass the 123 agreement, paving the way for the resumption of global civil nuclear commerce with India.
Mulford's timely reminder to India comes even as the Left parties have literally served an ultimatum to the government not to proceed with the next steps, including the IAEA negotiations, to operationalise the nuclear deal which it thinks will have serious implications on the country's foreign policy and its strategic programme.
Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar is currently in Vienna to attend the meeting of the board of governors of the IAEA. The IAEA has, however, clarified that India has yet to approach the UN nuclear watchdog for safeguards negotiations.
The government has set up a joint committee with its left allies to address these concerns, but the possibility of a compromise increasingly appears bleak. The Left parties have also hinted that they will pull the rug from under the government's feet if it went ahead with the deal, a grim scenario that could lead to elections early next year.