Amid nuclear deadlock, IAEA boss comes to India


New Delhi : Amid persisting differences between the government and its Left allies, IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei comes to India Monday on a four-day visit for informal talks that could set the stage for negotiations with the UN atomic agency on a crucial safeguards agreement.

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ElBaradei’s visit coincides with the crucial meeting of the joint mechanism formed by the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and its Left allies to resolve their fundamental differences over the India-US nuclear deal, which will be held Tuesday.

ElBaradei, a vocal supporter of the path-breaking India-US civil nuclear deal, will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Atomic Energy Commission chief Anil Kakodkar and other senior officials of the atomic energy department.

He may visit the Tarapur nuclear plant and will go to Agra on a private visit to soak in the wonders of the Taj Mahal.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the government is likely to tell the Leftist allies that it would go ahead with its negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for an India-specific safeguards agreement, a key step that is required to be completed before the US presses the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for a rule change in favour of New Delhi.

Despite the Leftist ultimatum to the government not to start negotiations with the UN nuclear watchdog, the government has begun informal talks with the IAEA – a process that began when Kakodkar visited Vienna last moth for a meeting of the UN’s nuclear watchdog.

Once formal negotiations begin, the Left parties, going by their public pronouncements, are likely to pull the rug from under the government, which could lead to early elections next year.

At their last meeting Friday, the government and its communist allies failed to break the impasse, fuelling speculation for an early election with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi saying Sunday that her party was not afraid to face polls.

The government has sent in a non-paper to the IAEA and is keen to finalise the safeguards agreement that will include India-specific fuel guarantees soon before the Left parties translate their warning into reality by withdrawing support to the government.

India is required to complete its safeguards agreement by the end of this month so that the deal can be discussed at the NSG meeting in mid-November.

Once these two steps are completed, the 123 bilateral agreement will be presented to the US Congress for an up and down vote. If India sticks to the October-end timeline for the IAEA negotiations, there is a strong likelihood that the nuclear deal, that will give New Delhi access to global nuclear technology and fuel after nearly three decades, could be operationalised by summer next year.