Government tells Left it has had informal talks with IAEA


New Delhi : The Indian government told its Left allies Friday that it has had informal dealings over the Indo-US nuclear deal with the IAEA but promised not to go for formal talks without the communists’ approval.

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The pledge was given at a two-hour meeting top ministers had with leaders of four Left groups that prop up Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s coalition and have warned of serious consequences if the nuclear deal was operationalised.

Left sources who provided details of the closed-door meet at the residence of External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said Railway Minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad said the government should not go ahead with the nuclear deal without the Left parties’ consent.

Left leaders said the government had assured them that there would not be any formal discussions with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on India-specific safeguard protocols unless it came to terms with Left objections.

But they said the government had at the same time indicated that it had already had informal consultations with IAEA.

“We still have the impression that government will not go ahead with the IAEA process till the UPA-Left Committee finalises its findings,” Debabrata Biswas of Forward Bloc said.

The committee, formed to address the concerns expressed by the Left parties over the nuclear deal’s impact on India’s foreign and strategic policies, will have its fourth meeting on Oct 9.

Friday’s scheduled consultations came ahead of the visit of IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei to New Delhi next week.

The Left maintains that if the government enters into discussions over India-specific safeguards, their talks with the ruling alliance would collapse, leading to the possible fall of the government.

The government did not put out any statement, but Mukherjee said in brief remarks after the meeting that it was held in a cordial atmosphere and the next round of discussions would take place Oct 9.

Those who took part in the meeting included cabinet ministers P. Chidambaram, A.K. Antony, T.R. Baalu, Sharad Pawar and Lalu Prasad besides Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and A.B. Bardhan and D. Raja of the Communist Party of India (CPI).

Although the communists are miffed over the government decision to engage with with IAEA even informally, Left sources said that Lalu Prasad made it clear that the government must not operationalise the nuclear deal unless the Left agreed.

“We feel encouraged because our views are getting stronger,” Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) leader T.J. Chandrachoodan said.

“Although the Congress claims that the nuclear deal will be beneficial for India, it does not seem to be in a mood to go for elections for the time being,” said another Left leader.

On Friday, both sides held detailed discussions on the impact of the Hyde Act and its implications on the fuel supply to Indian nuclear reactors.

“The Left had asked for more clarifications on the impact of the Hyde Act on foreign policy also. We wanted further clarifications and they supplied it. But we were not satisfied with the explanations on many issues,” Chandrachoodan said.

“Our doubts are not fully cleared,” he added.

Chandrachoodan said the Left raised questions over the impact of the nuclear deal on the country’s foreign policy, with special reference to New Delhi’s ties with Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The communists say the Hyde Act, passed by the US Congress in December, is not just about nuclear cooperation but also about asking India to dovetail its foreign policy to that of the US.