US will sign deal even with minority government: Boucher

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : The US Monday said it intends to move forward with the India-US civilian nuclear agreement with whatever government is in charge in New Delhi – even if it is in minority.

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The Bush administration was ready to “go as far as” possible to see conclusion of the deal, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher was quoted as saying ahead of the crucial trust vote that would decide the fate of Manmohan Singh government.

“We are going to work with the Indians, we are going to work with the Congress and we are going to take this as far as we can go,” he told but refrained from commenting on the likely outcome of the trust vote.

“We are very excited by the prospect, we’ll see what happens in the confidence vote, but however far the Indians could go, we are going to try to take it that far or further. So, that’s what we are going to do.”

Aware that unlike the US, the Indian government does not require legislative approval for the deal, the Bush administration’s new point man on the deal said that “internally within India, that’s a question for your (India’s) law, and your (India’s) policy and your (India’s) political community.”

But he pointed out: “In terms of the United States and India, we deal with the legally constituted government of India – whoever is running that government at the time, that’s who we sign agreements with. So, that’s not a problem for us.”

“If they have a legitimate government – people who are empowered to run the government – that’s who we’ll deal with,” he said and reiterated: “That’s not a problem for us.”

On the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) argument that without parliamentary approval, the Indian government would not have the moral authority or moral fibre to conclude such a deal, Boucher said: “You know, on our side, there is no legal problem or moral problem.”

“On their side, there may not be a legal question, but there’s always political questions and they’re going to have to figure that one out themselves. (But) As long as they are a duly constituted government, we are happy to deal with them,” he said.

Asked if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s decision to go through the deal despite the Left parties’ withdrawal of support had come a little too late, Boucher said: “I guess what I’ll say is it’s never too late. This is not a deal between a government and another government. It’s a deal between the United States and India – it’s good for India, it’s good for the United States.”

Acknowledging the constraints of the Congressional calendar, Boucher said: “…I think, everybody wants to take it as far as we can. I can’t promise what the US Congress will do, but if we take it to some point and time expires on this Congress, then the new Congress will have to take it up – that’s all you can say. So, that’s our pledge.”

India also needs to sign an India-specific safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and get clearance from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) before the deal goes to the US Congress for final approval.

On its part the US had already launched a concerted effort to expeditiously move on all fronts – IAEA, NSG – in order to try and consummate the deal before the end of its term in office and this Congress, Boucher said, “We are already heavily engaged – we’ve got designated teams working on this stuff.”

Thus, Boucher added, “We’ve really set ourselves up to do this as fast as possible but there’s an enormous amount to be done.”