The US has reiterated its desire to see the "important and historic" India-US nuclear deal concluded as quickly as possible, saying it would be a shame if this opportunity was lost for any reason.
Washington acknowledged "there are internal political issues for the Indian government to work out, and it's important that they have an opportunity to do so," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Monday, referring to the Indian Left's opposition that has stalled the deal.
On the other hand, members of US Congress had pointed out difficulties of getting such an agreement through the legislature as the US enters its own election cycle, he said in response to a question about the recent flurry of activity on the issue.
"I'll let them handicap that aspect of the process. They know that far better than I do," Casey said. "But we do believe this is an important agreement, a historic agreement really, between India and the United States, and we would like to see it move forward."
Reiterating the US desire to "to see this agreement concluded", the spokesman said: "We think it's in the best interests of India, the United States as well as in global non-proliferation effort."
Washington's key negotiator on the deal, Nicholas Burns, who retired from his official position as under secretary of state last Friday, has agreed at Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's request to continue in a consultative capacity, working specifically on this issue.
"And so I think Nick will still be very much engaged, involved in this process, and will do what he can to help see that this agreement in all its aspects does get concluded," Casey said.
Asked if the "now or never" warning issued by US lawmakers also reflected the views of the Bush administration, he said: "US lawmakers, members of Congress, speak for themselves.
"They have a very important role to play in this process. But when they are abroad, they're speaking in their own name as members of our legislative branch," Casey added.
The US believes "this is an important agreement. We want to see it concluded as quickly as possible", the spokesman said. "But ultimately, the Indian government needs to be fully comfortable with it and they need to be able to move things forward."
But, "It would be a shame if this opportunity, though, for both sides was lost, and we certainly therefore hope that we can reach an agreement as soon as possible", Casey said.
Meanwhile, US critics of the deal fired a salvo against it, asking the US Congress and responsible members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that controls world nuclear trade to insist on "international guidelines for trade with India that, at the very least, incorporate the minimal requirements mandated by US law.
"If India's leaders cannot even abide by these minimal standards and decide to reject the deal, that is their choice. Additional concessions to India will only further compromise the already beleaguered global non-proliferation system," Daryl G Kimball, president of the Arms Control Association said on Monday.
In an editorial in Arms Control Today, the official organ of the arms control lobby, he suggested that two and a half years after President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced their proposed US-Indian civil nuclear cooperation deal, "the ill-conceived arrangement faces a highly uncertain future".
Noting that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the NSG were set to consider a US proposal to exempt India from long-standing guidelines that require comprehensive IAEA safeguards as a condition of nuclear supply, he said: "If these bodies agree, the United States and other suppliers could finalise bilateral nuclear trade deals with India".
Although many states are willing to bend some rules to help India buy new reactors and the additional fuel needed to run them, there is growing resistance to forms of nuclear trade that could indirectly enable India's nuclear weapons programme or that would allow continued nuclear trade if India breaks its pledge not to resume nuclear test explosions, Kimball suggested.
He said while Rice had told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs recently that the US would pursue India-specific nuclear trade guidelines that are "completely consistent" with the Hyde Act, the enabling US law, India's special envoy, Shyam Saran, had contradicted her.
The Indian official, he noted, had voiced New Delhi's "expectation that there would be a fairly simple and clean exemption from these guidelines, without any conditions or even expectations regarding India's conduct in the future".
Saran noted that, in the US-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement, the Bush administration pledged to help India amass a strategic fuel reserve and provide fuel supplies for the lifetime of its safeguarded reactors.
Yet, at the urging of Democratic Senator Barack Obama, the Hyde Act stipulates that fuel supplies should only be "commensurate with reasonable reactor requirements", Kimball claimed, asking the "Congress and responsible members of the NSG to hold the Bush administration to Rice's pledge".