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US wants India to go forward on N-deal

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice emphasizes US support for a stalled civil nuclear deal with India in a conversation with Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Monday.
Reuters | By HT Correspondent, Washington
UPDATED ON OCT 30, 2007 03:16 PM IST

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice emphasized US support for a stalled civil nuclear deal with India in a conversation with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Monday, the State Department said.

The agreement aims to give India access to US nuclear fuel and equipment, overturning a three-decade ban imposed after New Delhi, which has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, conducted a nuclear test in 1974.

The accord has been become entangled in Indian domestic politics because the communist coalition allies of Prime Minister Mahmohan Singh have threatened to withdraw their parliamentary support for his government if it goes ahead.

U.S Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who was in India this week, also has encouraged the Indian government to resolve its political differences and sanction the nuclear deal with the United States.

On Oct. 12, Singh said he hoped to complete his five-year term and avoid early elections, suggesting this was a higher priority to him than forcing through the nuclear deal.

"The Indian people and the Indian political system are going to have to work out whatever resolution of that debate there will be," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington.

"But we continue to urge the Indian government to move forward with this deal. And we are prepared to move forward with it as well," he said, saying Rice had spoken to Mukherjee to underline US support for the agreement.

The agreement is also subject to three further hurdles.

India must reach an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to place its civilian nuclear reactors under U.N. safeguards. It must get clearance from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group that governs global civilian nuclear trade.

After those steps, the agreement must be approved again by the US Congress, which the Indian government hopes will happen in time for the agreement to be completed before President George W. Bush leaves office in January 2009.

But that schedule now looks threatened by the political impasse in India.

Asked about the possibility of renegotiating the agreement, McCormack said: "I don't believe that there's any consideration of that or any discussion of that on either side at this point."

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