India may go ahead with IAEA talks after Left nod


New Delhi : The Indian government may soon approach the international nuclear watchdog for negotiations on India-specific safeguard protocols to take forward its nuclear deal with the US following an apparent nod from the Left parties.

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The communists, who were earlier fiercely opposed to these talks, have now thrown a caveat that the discussions with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna can be held provided the government gets their concurrence before signing any final agreement.

Relieved over the positive indications from its Left allies, the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has called a meeting of the 15-member nuclear committee, its sixth, on Friday to take a final decision. The meeting had been deferred earlier.

Although there is no certainty that the contentious deal would go through, government sources said the Left’s new stand was “a temporary relief” for it.

“The meeting of the UPA-Left panel has been reconvened on Nov 16. We hope a way out will be found at the meeting. But I am hopeful that something positive would come out,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters here.

New Delhi is required to negotiate the India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA in December as the next step to operationalise the 123 agreement with the US. India has to then approach the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for changing the rules to allow nuclear trade with other nuclear powers.

At the final stage, the 123 agreement has to be approved by the US Congress. The George W. Bush administration was keen that the agreement should be signed before January, when the country goes into election mode.

However, the communists, who have been blocking the UPA to go ahead with operationalisation of the deal, have sought a commitment from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government that they wanted to approve the final draft before it goes back to the US.

The Left leaders refused to confirm its change of stance publicly.

“Whatever decision has to be taken will be taken at the meeting. Let us see what is their proposal. Whatever proposal comes up at the meeting, we will consider,” Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury told reporters here.

“Why are you presuming there is a change in our stance? We have not taken any stance,” he said.

According to Left sources, the government has apparently told the communist leaders that it wanted an “honourable exit” if the nuclear deal with Washington was not signed.

The matter was again raised on Saturday at a meeting between CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat and CPI leader A.B Bardhan with the prime minister, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and nuclear committee chairperson Pranab Mukherjee.

“Although the Left leaders reiterated their opposition to the nuclear deal, we have agreed for a discussion in the nuclear committee,” said a senior Left leader.

Well-placed sources said the Left, which has been getting flak for its role in the violence in Nandigram, wants a temporary truce with the government over the contentious civil nuclear pact.

Bardhan was quoted as saying in an interview to NDTV that if the committee came to the finding that the IAEA negotiations could be allowed, the Left would go along with it. But he added a rider – “provided that they come back before initialising it and before sending it to the board of governors (of IAEA).”

“And if that time also we say that no, nothing doing, then they should stop,” the CPI general secretary said.

Addressing reporters Monday, Karat also indicated a possible softening of stance.

“The differences over the nuclear can be sorted out soon as the UPA-Left committee meetings have already found substantial ground,” he said.

Karat added: “We are also trying not to be adamant. The government can also try to heed to our demand.”

The CPI-M-led Left parties, who extend crucial parliamentary support to the Congress-led UPA government, has been opposing the nuclear agreement with Washington saying that it would undermine the country’s independent foreign policy and indigenous nuclear programme.

It has also warned of “serious consequences” if the government went ahead with its negotiations with the IAEA on an India-specific safeguard protocol before addressing the concerns expressed by the Left parties.