Government’s last-ditch effort to get Left nod on IAEA pact


New Delhi : Desperate to finalise the India-specific safeguards agreement with the UN nuclear watchdog IAEA and seal the nuclear deal with the US, the Congress-led government will make one “last-ditch effort” to get the concurrence of its Left allies at their joint nuclear committee meeting Wednesday.

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“Keen on finalising the safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before Director General Mohamed El Baradei completes his term in July, the government will make its last ditch effort to convince the communists,” said a highly placed source in the government.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who heads the 15-member United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-Left nuclear committee, has already told the Left that El Baradei could be succeeded by a Japanese diplomat, who may not be as supportive of New Delhi’s nuclear ambitions.

“In Wednesday’s meeting, we will be putting pressure on the Left parties to allow the government to go to the (IAEA) board of governors with the draft agreement,” said a minister in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet.

“They (communists) are testing our patience,” the minister told IANS.

Although India has completed negotiations over an “additional protocol” agreement with the IAEA, it has not finalised it in the absence of a go-ahead from the Left allies, who have been opposing the nuclear agreement with the US.

However, the Left leaders have of late said they are not opposed to India’s agreement with the IAEA.

“Our objection is not with the IAEA. Our objection is with the 123 agreement, which according to us is very deeply anchored in the Hyde Act (of the US),” Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) politburo member Sitaram Yechury said last week.

The CPI-M-led Left parties, which extend crucial legislative support to the UPA government, had given the green signal for negotiation with the IAEA but insisted that it could not be finalised without their approval.

However, Left sources said the communists would like to ensure that the UPA government did not get a chance to operationalise the deal till August. The Left believes that delaying the IAEA formalities would make it impossible for the US Congress to complete the remaining steps before George W. Bush leaves office.

Ashley J. Tellis, one of the architects of the India-US civil nuclear deal, expressed apprehensions about the deal in a recent interview.

“Even if it (India) decides to proceed with the next step right away, that is, approach the IAEA board to approve the safeguards agreement, it will be difficult to complete all the remaining steps before the (US) president (Bush) leaves office if (the US) Congress takes the minimum time allowed by the law to finally vote on the 123 agreement.”

But Tellis said it would not be “impossible” although “difficult”.

Meanwhile, the confusion in India’s ruling Congress over the fate of the contentious deal is also continuing. While a section of party leaders feel that pushing the deal despite the Communist allies’ opposition would be “political suicide”, others, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, want the agreement to materialise so that the country’s energy requirement can be met.

Some Congress leaders say the government should forget about the deal, as the party is not in a position to face elections in the present scenario – an eventuality that could arise if the Communists withdraw their support.

According to a senior Congress minister, even party chief Sonia Gandhi has clarified that the nuclear deal should not come at the cost of “sacrificing the government.”

“We do not want to create a bad precedence by pushing the deal if the government is reduced to a minority,” the minister, who did not wish to be identified, told IANS.

Once the IAEA agreement is finalised, it will be placed before the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to get an “India-specific” exemption to its guideline, thus clearing the way for nuclear commerce between New Delhi and NSG member countries.

Once it passes through the NSG, the US Congress will have to decide if it wants to give its nod to the 123 Agreement to change its domestic laws to allow trade between US companies and India on civilian nuclear energy and technology.