As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W Bush discussed the troubled India-US civil nuclear deal, Washington expressed confidence it would retain bipartisan support in the United States.
While no details were provided on what the two leaders who set the nuclear deal rolling in July 2005, talked about over the phone, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey reiterated Monday the deal "is a positive one and a good one for the United States, for India and for the broader efforts of non-proliferation."
"When you look at both the support that this has had here in the United States, in a bipartisan way, I think we have expectation that when we get to that point we'll be able to have broad bipartisan support for this as well," he told reporters.
Asked about his assessment amid reports from India that the deal was slipping away with Manmohan Singh government agreeing to its Left allies' demand to put negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on hold, Casey said while both sides had to take certain steps to complete the process, he would leave it to the Indians to talk how things are proceeding within India's political system.
"And certainly we want to see that get accomplished. But again in terms of the timing and the discussions internally within the Indian political system, I'll leave that to them," Casey said apparently mindful of the sensitivities about the issue in India.
New Delhi has to work with IAEA to establish a safeguards arrangement for its civilian reactors and US needs to work out an appropriate arrangement with the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that controls world nuclear trade, he noted, before the deal goes for final approval before the US Congress.
Though there is no deadline as such to complete the deal, Bush is keen to push it through the US Congress before political attention shifts to presidential and congressional elections in November 2008 so as to score a major foreign policy success before he leaves office.
Asked if this meant that the US is not pushing India to have this deal done as quickly as possible, the official said, "each one of these agreements is complicated. They've got a whole variety of things associated with them."
But "I'm not going to try and tell the Indians how to manage their own internal process on this. We certainly think this is again an arrangement that's positive for both countries and the broader international community and we'd like to see it done as soon as possible, but that's within the context of what each country has to do and has to accomplish," he said.
In reply to another question whether Washington was satisfied with the efforts of the Manmohan Singh government to push the deal through and if it undermined the Bush administration's ability to overcome opposition to it in the US Congress, Casey said, "I think they have to work their side of this. We have to work our side of this."
"I think we believe again that when you look at both the support that this has had here in the United States in a bipartisan way, I think we have expectation that when we get to that point, we'll be able to have a broad bipartisan support for this as well," Casey said.
"I believe it's up to the Government of India to talk about their efforts. Again, I think we're going to continue to work on our part and we assume they're going to continue to work on theirs and it'll be done in a time that is appropriate for both sides," he repeated in response to persistent questioning about New Delhi's efforts.
Asked if he didn't think that the Singh government "just kind of caved into domestic pressures", the official said, "Look, again, I'll let other people do the Indian political analysis for you. We believe this is an important arrangement. I think it will be good for both sides, once it's implemented. And in terms of the timing and the process internally in India, I'll just defer to the Indians on it."
On its part, the US has had "a number of good conversations" with some of the individual nations involved in the NSG, but "obviously, the formal discussions as the NSG will have to wait until this other piece is completed," Casey said referring to the IAEA inspections regime.
"That's really for the Indians to work out. That's their part of the arrangement," he said.
"Certainly we want to be in a position once those safeguard arrangements are in place, to make the necessary procedural changes within the NSG so that India can be provided fuel under those terms," Casey said referring to Washington's own initiative.