Red light on talks with IAEA

Updated on Aug 21, 2007 09:42 AM IST

The Left makes it clear that they will desert UPA if talks are held with the atomic watchdog. Manmohan stands firm| What lies ahead...

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Hindustan Times | ByVinod Sharma and Sutirtho Patranobis, New Delhi

The Left made it clear on Monday that they will desert the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) if talks are held with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in pursuance of the India-US nuclear deal.

The Left parties — the CPM, CPI, Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party — flagged their demand of “no talks” with the IAEA as a precondition for discussing with the government the implications of the Hyde Act, an India-specific US law that is the bone of contention.

This put the spotlight on Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Chairman Anil Kakodkar’s planned visit to the IAEA headquarters in Vienna in the second week of September. But a top government source clarified that India was on the IAEA Board of Governors and the AEC chief’s participation at such meetings predated the 123 Agreement with the US.

Referring to the proposal of a committee or any other mechanism to study the implications of the Act on the 123 Agreement with the US, the Left was categorical that “this can follow only when the next step at the IAEA is not taken”.

The outcome of the two-hour meeting of the Left parties appeared to restrict the Manmohan Singh government’s options to salvage the situation without a climbdown from its stand that the nuclear deal cannot be renegotiated nor the concomitant dialogue put on hold.

For lack of optimism that the logjam can be broken, political circles were abuzz about the possibility of mid-term elections. But the Congress sought to play down the crisis by asserting that talks were on with the Left to find a way out of the imbroglio.

Admitting that problems existed in patching up the differences, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the government’s interface with the Left, said efforts were on to break the impasse. “Till now, they have not withdrawn support. We’ll discuss their resolution and formulate our response tomorrow.”

Mukherjee is understood to be keeping the contact with the Left alive through CPM’s Sitaram Yechury.

With Congress chief Sonia Gandhi having left for a visit to South Africa, his consultations on Tuesday will primarily be with the Prime Minister and other members of the party’s core group.

While the Left leaders were closeted at the CPM headquarters, the Congress fielded Union Minister Kapil Sibal to state its piece: “They shouldn’t precipitate matters and must hear us out. Misgivings about the deal have arisen out of preconceived notions that can be addressed in a discussion in Parliament.”

The Left’s statement was signed by the CPM’s Prakash Karat, CPI’s A.B. Bardhan, RSP’s Abani Roy and Forward Bloc’s Debabrata Biswas. It said the parties would await the Congress’s response to their stand that is “fully in the spirit of our parliamentary democracy and the government’s commitment to the country’s welfare”.

There was no direct mention of withdrawal of support in the plainly worded statement that nevertheless sent a stern message to the UPA. It was learnt Karat said there would not be “any compromise” on the deal. Bardhan told newspersons later: “There is no doubt the Left will withdraw support in the event of the government going ahead with the talks.” Before the meeting, he had discounted any intermediary approach — like merit-based support — to delay the denouement.

The Left will also closely watch the three-day visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, starting Tuesday. They fear the visiting PM, whose country is an NSG member, would try to pressure India into operationalising the 123 Agreement.

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