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N-deal talks: no sign of any breakthrough

The UPA leaders with its defiant Left allies hold make-or-break meetings in a bid to end their row over the nuclear deal that threatens the government's future.
By HT Correspondent | IANS, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUN 25, 2008 04:14 PM IST

Leaders of India's ruling coalition and its defiant Left allies held make-or-break meetings on Wednesday in a bid to end their row over the Indo-US nuclear deal that threatens the government's future. But with only hours to go for a UPA-Left nuclear panel meeting, there is no sign of a breakthrough, informed sources said.

Wednesday began with talks Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general secretary Prakash Karat held with with Congress ministers Pranab Mukherjee and AK Antony at Mukherjee's residence.

The ministers tried to convince Karat about the need for the government to approach the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to finalise the India-specific safeguards agreement to take the nuclear deal forward.

But Karat is believed to have told them that the Left was opposed to this because it did not want the nuclear pact to become operational.

Karat's counterpart in the Communist Party of India, A.B. Bardhan, was equally blunt.

He told reporters outside his party office: “There is no way the Left can give a green signal for the deal. If there is a new proposal, let the government give it to us.”

He added with a touch of warning: “The government is safe at least till 5 p.m." The UPA-Left nuclear committee meeting, which draws top leaders from both sides, is set to start at 5 p.m. at Mukherjee's residence.

After meeting the Congress leaders, Karat proceeded to meet Samajwadi Party leader and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose Samajwadi Party has until now opposed the India-US nuclear deal. But it is now being wooed by the Congress to ditch the Left.

Antony and Mukherjee called on Congress president Sonia Gandhi at her 10 Janpath residence to brief her about their talks with the CPI-M leader. Also present at the meeting was Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel.

Mukherjee then met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to share the details of their discussions.

The Left leaders are believed to have asked the government that the prime minister should make a public statement that New Delhi would not go ahead and sign the 123 agreement with Washington, even if it finalised the IAEA India-safeguards pact. The government is not falling for this.

The government has reportedly told the Left, whose legislative support is vital for the ruling coalition, that it would convene an all-party meeting to take a view on the India-US nuclear deal.

The Left is not very enthused by an all-party meeting.

Informed sources said Gandhi has had discussions with the prime minister, who is reportedly firm that the government should sign the 123 bilateral agreement with the US to end India's nuclear isolation triggered by the first nuclear test of 1974.

The sources told IANS that the Wednesday UPA-Left nuclear panel meeting would not be the last one. The committee members are likely to meet again soon.

"The government would rather listen to its allies instead of making a final statement," said a source in the government. Most Congress allies in the UPA are opposed to taking a stand that would force the Left to desert the government, reducing it to a minority in parliament.

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