India's foreign minister on Tuesday declined to say whether his government can achieve agreement on a nuclear pact with the United States within a time frame recommended by the Bush administration.
A day after meetings with US President George W Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the coalition government in New Delhi was still seeking consensus on the deal opposed by its communist allies.
"At this juncture, it is difficult for me to indicate any time frame by which we will be able to complete this process," Mukherjee told reporters at a news conference.
"There are certain issues which are yet to be resolved. Unless those are resolved, it will be difficult for us to fix any particular time frame."
US officials have warned that the deal, which would provide India access to American nuclear fuel and technology, could fall through if it is not presented to Congress for required approval by July.
The government of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wants nuclear power as a source of clean energy to help attain an economic growth target of 9 to 10 percent a year over the next two decades.
But the government remains deadlocked with communist members of the coalition who oppose the deal as detrimental to India's security. The communists have threatened to bring down the government if it tries to push the deal through.
Some nonproliferation advocates also believe the agreement undermines global efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
On Monday, Mukherjee bluntly acknowledged "we have some political problems in our country" over the deal.
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on Tuesday said as time goes by "it gets more and more difficult" to win US congressional approval because of the legislative calendar truncated this year in advance of the November 4 US election.
But a prospective Senate schedule showed lawmakers penciled in for legislative sessions in July, August, September and October, as well as a possible lame-duck session following the November election.
Mukherjee told reporters on Tuesday India has completed negotiations for an agreement on India-specific safeguards with the International Atomic Energy Agency. But the agreement has not yet been signed or forwarded to the U.N. nuclear watchdog's board of governors for approval.
A deal would also need approval from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group.
The communists have allowed the government to negotiate with the IAEA on condition that the outcome of the talks will be reported to them.
Mukherjee said the government has shared a broad outline of the IAEA negotiations with critics and promised more disclosures soon.
"They wanted some more details and they will get them in the next meeting," he said.