The US has again urged India to quickly make a "courageous decision" to endorse their civil nuclear agreement that President George Bush considers a major accomplishment of his administration.
"I'm afraid it's time for the government to decide. We hope the decision will be positive," the chief US negotiator for the deal, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, said on Thursday suggesting Indian Left's opposition is jeopardising an agreement that benefits both nations.
"If India is to be given this great victory, which is so clearly in the Indian national interest, there has to be a courageous decision made by the government," said Burns who is retiring from the State Department next week, but would continue to work on the "India file".
In an interaction with foreign media, the US diplomat also dismissed as "impossible" a suggestion that New Delhi could abandon the US deal and engage in civil nuclear trade with other nations as it was Washington that had for the last three years led the way to "bring India out of its nuclear isolation".
"We were able to convince the (US) Congress to pass an American law that would allow American companies to trade with India for the first time since the 1970s."
"We now are in the vanguard. We're the leading country that will support the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in making an international case that all countries should engage in nuclear trade with India."
"That cannot happen without the United States, because that Nuclear Suppliers Group, of which we are a leading member, has to decide by a consensus," Burns said.
The Indian government itself is not suggesting this, he noted. "But in your worst-case scenario, if there was an attempt to say: well, we're going to forget about the deal with the United States, but go forward, it couldn't happen, because the Nuclear Suppliers Group wouldn't make the decision in that case."
"I think the Indian government is quite sincere in wanting to push this agreement forward," Burns said, noting: "There's obviously a question of politics within the Indian coalition, and we don't want to interfere in internal affairs of the coalition in India."
"But we do know this... time is very short," he warned recalling comments made by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Senator Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, during their visits to India.
Biden had explained that for the US Congress to make a final vote on the issue in 2008, the entire agreement must land on the doorstep of the Congress by May or June of this year.
Backing up from there, one could see that India must make an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) within a week or two. And in turn, the NSG would have to begin acting in the month of March.
The implementing 123 Agreement finalised last July can go for a final approval before the US Congress only after New Delhi signs an India specific safeguards agreement with IAEA and NSG.
"So there are very short timelines here, and I'm afraid it's time for the government to decide. We hope the decision will be positive," Burns said.
The nuclear deal is in the interest of both the US and India, he said noting, "It has strong support from Russia, from France, and I think even from the Chinese Government at this point."
"And so if India is to be given this great victory, which is so clearly in the Indian national interest, there has to be a courageous decision made by the government to move forward. We hope that decision will be positive," Burns said.
Noting the nuclear deal had "become in many ways a symbolic centrepiece of the US-India relationship, and that relationship is very strong," he said "We have greatly expanded our relations with India in agriculture, in the sciences, in education, in civil nuclear power."
"We have become partners in South Asia. We work very closely with India, for instance, in trying to encourage a peaceful transition in Nepal. We work very closely with India on the question of Sri Lanka, where both of us are quite dismayed by the outbreak of further violence between the government and the Tamil Tigers," Burns said.
"And so there's a new quality to the US-India relationship," he said describing it "as one of the great successes for President Bush and his Administration, but also as a continuation of the good efforts started by President (Bill) Clinton in the mid 1990s."
There is strong bipartisan support for "this new relationship with India," he said recalling the positive comments made by Senators Biden, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel after their meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
He noted India has not been able to trade in civil nuclear fuel or nuclear reactor technology for well over 35 years because of international sanctions against India triggered by India's first nuclear test in 1974.
"We have been a very good friend and partner of India all along through these incredibly intense and complex three years of negotiations," said Burns "and I've been in every meeting. So I have a sense of what it was like."
"What's emerged from those negotiations is a relationship between New Delhi and Washington, which is quite close, very trusting," the diplomat said noting why India would not go it alone on the nuclear deal.
"This has the potential to be one of the most significant advances for America's foreign policy in this era, the creation of this new strategic partnership with the Indian Government and the Indian people," Burns said.
Asked about prevalent anti-Americanism around the world, he conceded: "Obviously, there are significant pockets, places in the world, where a high percentage of the people may be unhappy with the US in parts of the Arab and Muslim world, for instance."
"But there are other parts of the world-and India is a very good example-where the public opinion polls consistently show very high marks both for the US Government and for our president."