'India must complete nuclear deal by September'
Visiting US Congressman Gary Ackerman made it clear on Thursday that India will have to complete all formalities by September if it wanted the Indo-US civilian nuclear energy cooperation agreement to go through and felt that at the moment it was moving slowly.
Ackerman, who arrived here in the early hours Thursday, told journalists after a meeting with foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon that "the nuclear deal is not moving as fast as it should. It is moving slowly."
He added that time was running out and if India wanted to see the nuclear deal through it will have to do it by September since the presidential elections in the US will be held in November.
Ackerman will also meet External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and National Security Adviser MK Narayanan.
He will discuss with them a host of issues, including the nuclear deal, the Iranian nuclear issue and further intensification of economic and defence ties between India and the US.
The 64-year-old Ackerman, Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans and a senior member of the House International Relations Committee, is also likely to call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He is leading a six-member bi-partisan delegation of US Congressmen on a two-day visit to India.
Ackerman, who has batted for the nuclear deal during Congressional debates, will underline in his discussions with the Indian leadership the need for New Delhi to conclude the next steps to make the deal operational, failing which it will be difficult for the US Congress to endorse it this year.
The Indian government is heading for a probable parting of ways with its Communist allies, which could happen as early as Friday, if it decides to take the nuclear deal forward by concluding a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The discussions will also focus on the future of the nuclear deal under the Democratic dispensation if the deal does not go through this year and Barack Obama wins the November presidential elections.
Besides the deal, the festering Iranian nuclear issue will also figure in discussions.
Ahead of his visit, Ackerman, who opposes India's interest in concluding a gas pipeline project with Iran and Pakistan, had said that India needed to do more than "just implement the UN approved sanctions" to "isolate" Tehran on its nuclear programme.
Significantly, Ackerman arrived just a day after Narayanan met Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmandinejad in Tehran and underlined India's commitment to the $7.5 billion pipeline project.
In a statement Wednesday night, the Prime Minister's Office also spoke about India's "time-honoured" relations with Iran to allay fears among sections of Indians that the government was giving up its sovereign foreign policy to get the nuclear deal with the US.
Despite his hardline position on Iran, Ackerman may try and play down his opposition to Indo-Iranian ties while he is here.