US voices support for N-deal, points to ticking clock
The United States has reiterated its firm support for the stalled Indo-US civil nuclear deal while reminding New Delhi of the "bottom line" of the need to get US congressional approval before it gets into election mode.
"Well, I think that this administration has been firm in its support for this deal. It continues to be so," State Department Deputy Spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said on Wednesday when asked to comment on a British newspaper report that the deal is close to dead.
"Right now we're at a situation where this is with the Indian government and literally with the Indian people," he said alluding to the Indian coalition' s leftist supporters' opposition that has stalled the deal for over ten months.
"This is a matter for them to decide and then follow through with," Gallegos said. "We've consistently stated that we stand behind this, that we continue to support it, and that we would like to move apace in terms of proceeding with it."
"I think, however, the bottom line is the reality of the congressional calendar that has to be dealt with," he said. "We do hope that we can continue and possibly concludes this in near future."
US officials have time and again reminded New Delhi that it would be difficult to get Congressional approval for the implementing 123 agreement finalised last July in an election year unless it comes up before the legislature before end June.
India needs to sign an India specific safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and get the approval of 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) before the US Congress can give its go-ahead.
Asked if there was any hope of the deal being completed before President George Bush leaves office in January, the spokesman declined to commit to any dates. "I would be the last one - if my boss and my boss's boss are loath to commit to dates, I fear it even more than they do," he said.
The Financial Times had cited a former Bush administration official as suggesting that the India-US nuclear deal is almost certainly dead because of delays by New Delhi.
Asked whether it was now impossible to push the deal through in the dying days of Bush's term, a senior Bush administration official told the daily: "That is probably correct."
"Even if the Indian government were suddenly to turn around and get the IAEA stage completed, there would be no time for the remaining two stages," said Ashley Tellis, one of the original architects of the deal and now an adviser to Republican Party presidential candidate John McCain.