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Nuclear deal: Govt may use NSG card

The Govt is making a final effort to persuade its allies to clear the IAEA pact & allow India's case to go to NSG.

india Updated: Mar 08, 2008 12:04 IST
Manish Chand
Manish Chand

With the Left setting a March 15 deadline for a decision on the future of the nuclear deal, the government is making a last-ditch effort to persuade its allies to clear the IAEA pact which is nearly complete and allow India's case for global civil nuclear commerce to go to the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

The government is hoping that like last time when the Left, after putting its foot down, allowed it to proceed with negotiations with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), this time also the Left will relent and allow the deal to go to the NSG, a top source privy to highest decision-making in the government told IANS.

This is the argument External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is going to use to win over the Left allies at the Left-UPA meeting likely to take place early next week, the source said.

The next Left-UPA meeting, chaired by Mukherjee, may prove to be a make-or-break one with an increasingly strident Left virtually giving an ultimatum to the government to choose between survival or the nuclear deal which it suspects will make India subservient to the US' strategic interests.

The IAEA pact has to be approved by the Left parties before the government can go ahead with the deal.

The government is not yet ready to force the issue with the Left as it does not want to risk its survival before the pro-poor poll-friendly budget proposals are approved by parliament which can only happen by April-end or in early May.

"A minority government cannot, need not and should not sign a major agreement like this," Mukherjee told the Outlook magazine, adding even Washington would not back such a move.

"First the consensus will be with the supporting parties," Mukherjee said. "Then we shall try to evolve a larger consensus."

"If the government does not exist, how can there be an agreement? So we shall have to carry them (leftists) with us, if possible."

The government is also keen to re-brand the deal by positioning it as not an India-US deal but as a passport to global nuclear commerce with other friendly countries like Russia and China, a point Mukherjee stressed in his statement on the deal in parliament early this week.

Given the Left's soft spot for China, the UPA members of the joint panel, including UPA allies who have hinted that they would support the deal, are likely to stress that most NSG member countries, including China, are ready to back the deal.

With the US repeatedly reminding India about a May deadline for the deal, the government is working on finalizing the IAEA pact by the end of this month, preferably before Mukherjee goes to Washington on a visit March 23-25.

The idea is to ensure that the deal is on the table when the NSG convenes a plenary meeting May 19 in Johannesburg so that the deal, which aims at ending India's global nuclear isolation after three decades, can be ratified by the US Congress by July.

The next week will be decisive in settling the fate of the deal one way or another with the Left giving an undisguised warning to the government not to go ahead.

"If the government thinks that after arriving at an agreed text with the IAEA they can proceed to take the next steps for operationalising the agreement, they are mistaken," said an article in CPI-M mouthpiece People's Democracy.

"The future of this government depends on the decision they will take," it said.