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Left puts government to Iran pipeline test

By Manish Chand, IANS,

New Delhi : Ahead of the joint meeting on the India-US civil nuclear deal next week, the Left has said that the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline’s fate will prove how independent India’s foreign policy is under the present dispensation.

“If the pipeline deal goes through, then we will know we have an independent foreign policy,” Communist Party of India leader A.B. Bardhan told IANS.

“If the pipeline deal does not go through, it would mean the American pressure has won,” Bardhan declared, while alluding to American opposition to the three-nation gas pipeline.

Washington suspects that if the pipeline takes shape, it will bring India and Iran closer and defeat its larger campaign to isolate Tehran over its suspected nuclear weapon programme.

Bardhan spoke approvingly about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinjead’s brief visit to India last week that saw the two sides give a political push to the much-delayed $7.5 billion pipeline that will bring Iranian gas to India through Pakistan.

“Oil ministers of India, Pakistan and Iran have been asked to submit their final reports on the pipeline to their respective leaders,” Ahmadinejad announced here after talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The Iranian president struck an upbeat note on the pipeline, saying he was hopeful of finalising it soon.

The Left parties have accused the Congress-led government of compromising its independent foreign policy when it voted against Tehran twice at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2005 and 2006.

The Left, which opposes the India-US nuclear deal, has charged the government with jeopardizing its ties with Iran for the sake of the nuclear deal.

Ahead of Ahmadinejad’s visit, the government – making it clear that it was bowing to the US – told the White House that India did not need any guidance from any country to conduct its relations with Iran.

New Delhi’s rebuff to Washington was meant to underline New Delhi’s commitment to an independent foreign policy and assuage Left parties, which have made India’s ties with Iran an issue, ahead of the UPA-Left meeting on the nuclear deal May 6.

Bardhan confirmed that the Left parties – the CPI, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) – have been invited by the government to a meeting of the joint panel formed last year to address their concerns on the nuclear deal.

“We have been invited for the meeting. Let’s see what happens. Our position is well known,” he said.

The Left parties virtually hold veto over the stalled nuclear deal, which seeks to reopen doors of global civil nuclear commerce after a gap of three decades. They have approved the government’s pact with the IAEA before the deal can go forward.

“There is little likelihood of any breakthrough at the UPA-Left meeting,” a reliable official source said. “We will continue our discussions and are trying to address their concerns.”

India has to cross two hurdles – finalizing a safeguards pact with the IAEA and a change in Nuclear Supply Group (NSG) guidelines – before the deal can become operational after the US Congress ratifies it.