A day after India told the US about "certain difficulties" in the operationalisation of the civil nuclear deal, Washington still hopes that the end of 2008 would implement it.
"We believe it's still possible for that to happen," State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said on Tuesday without spelling out what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told President George W Bush during a telephonic conversation on Monday night.
"Obviously, a number of things would have to occur for that to be ultimately implemented. But it's a long time between now and the end of 2008 and we'll see where we are," he said referring to the remaining steps that have been put on hold after the deal ran into trouble with the Indian government's Left allies.
India has to negotiate a safeguards arrangement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for its civilian reactors and get clearance from the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The deal then 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 in January 2009.
Besides Monday night's conversation between the two leaders who set the nuclear ball rolling in July 2005, Washington has talked about the issue with the Indians at various levels, Casey said.
Washington's key negotiator for the deal, Nick Burns, has spoken with his counterparts over the weekend and continued to do so Tuesday. US ambassador to India, David C Mulford had also talked to some officials in India, he said.
The nuclear deal "is part of a much broader shift in the relations between India and the United States," Casey said instead of calling it the "centrepiece" of a new relationship between the two countries as US officials has been doing in the past.
"We are really developing a broader strategic partnership with India. That's something that's unique and I think is very positive in the development of relations between the world's two largest democracies," he said.
"I think it is really something that we are going to continue to work on and going to do so regardless of the timetable that gets followed for the implementation of this particular agreement," Casey added.
Washington "continues to believe that this is a very important agreement and it's in the interest of both countries, also in the interests of further cementing and strengthening international non-proliferation regimes," he said. "And the US has worked hard to meet its commitments under this agreement, and we're going to continue to do so."
However, he would "leave it to the Indian government to describe their interaction with IAEA," Casey said taking note of what he called "some internal discussions on this in India".
"But in terms of the timing of those discussions and the outcomes of them, frankly we don't want to interfere in this internal matter for the Indian government, and we'll leave it to them to comment on it.
"I will say that we would hope that India would be able to move forward with this agreement and that we would be able to complete it in 2008, which was in general keeping with the original time frame we had outlined for it," Casey said.