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Govt not to fall over nuclear deal, says Congress

The Communist allies have warned the government of "serious consequences" if it did not put the pact on hold.

india Updated: Aug 30, 2007 17:52 IST

Congress party has said its government would not collapse over a nuclear deal with the United States, despite warnings by its communist allies of "serious consequences" if it did not put the pact on hold.

<b1>The opposition of left parties, which provide parliamentary support to the Congress-led coalition, to the civilian nuclear deal has triggered Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's worst political crisis since he took office in 2004.

But Congress cabinet minister and senior leader Kapil Sibal said the government would not fall over opposition to the pact.

"This is a non-issue," Sibal told NDTV television, in reply to a question whether the Congress party-led government would quit rather than go back on the landmark nuclear deal.

"I don't think any government will fall. I don't think anybody will take that position once the issue is debated in parliament," said Sibal, the minister for science and technology and earth sciences.

Sibal's comments aired on TV on Saturday come a day after senior communist leader Sitaram Yechury sought to calm worries about a possible withdrawal of leftist support, saying the communists were asking the government to press the "pause button" on the pact, and "not eject or stop".

The nuclear deal was finalised in July after months of negotiations between the world's two largest democracies, although it still needs approval by several global institutions and a final vote by the US Congress.

It will give an energy-hungry India access to American reactors and fuel for the first time in three decades, despite New Delhi having tested atomic weapons and not signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

India's communist parties - who jointly have 60 MPs in the 545-member lower house of parliament - have argued the deal undermines India's sovereign nuclear and foreign policy and draws it into a US strategic alliance, aimed at containing China.

But Sibal said the government will address the left's concerns on the deal - the 123 Agreement - during a debate in parliament expected next week.

"The basis of their suspicions, the basis of their concerns and their doubts emanate from the 123 Agreement. If we address those concerns, the basis of those concerns will go."

"We have done nothing wrong. It is possibly the best deal we could have ever got," Sibal added.

An opinion poll of 6,500 voters published this week showed 46 percent backed the deal, with just 28 percent against it. The rest did not state an opinion.

The poll also showed that 47 per cent of voters wanted the government to resist communist pressure to put it on hold, even if meant a new election.

The left does not want the government to start talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency on safeguards for civilian reactors and get the approval of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group - essential steps to put the deal into action - unless its concerns are addressed.

First Published: Aug 25, 2007 16:36 IST