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India has to resolve n-deal issue in home politics: US

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : As the Indian coalition government and its leftist supporters held another inconclusive round on the stalled India-US civil nuclear deal, Washington said it was for New Delhi to resolve an issue of domestic politics.

“In terms of India, the issue is with Indian politics and the Indian government working on their end to try to resolve any issues they may have,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Tuesday when asked if the deal was “just dead or is moving forward.”

The official was not sure how actively was Nicholas Burns, Washington’s former key interlocutor for the deal involved in the process. Burns had agreed to continue to work on the India file even after he quit his job as under secretary of state for political affairs in February.

“I’m not sure how active Nick is involved in that process as it’s really a matter for Indian domestic politics,” McCormack said referring to the leftist opposition that has prevented New Delhi from signing the implementing bilateral 123 agreement finalised last July.

The deal has to cross two more hurdles before it goes to the US Congress for final approval. First, New Delhi has to sign an India specific safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and then ask the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to change its guidelines for nuclear commerce.

India and the IAEA have finalised a draft agreement, but the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has decided not to sign it without the approval of the Left parties. New Delhi had earlier entered into talks with IAEA only after getting a nod from the Left.

The State Department spokesman’s comments were in line with similar comments made by other US officials who now seem to have given up their earlier refrain that time was running out for the deal in view of the US Congressional elections in November.

White House spokesperson Dana Perino declared last week that the US considers the nuclear deal with India as “critically important” and is never going to pronounce it “dead”.

“We are never going to declare it dead because we think it’s critically important,” she said reflecting the keenness of President George W. Bush to see the deal, which he looks at as a major achievement of his administration, implemented before he leaves the White House in January.

Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte too told a TV show last week that it was “definitely feasible” to get the remaining steps on the nuclear deal with India completed if New Delhi approves the implementing 123 agreement.

“I think, if the Indian government approves it, I do think that then what remains is to get an agreement with the IAEA and with the NSG,” he said in interview with Charlie Rose. “But I think those things are definitely feasible.”

“But right now the main stumbling block is the internal Indian political process. And they’re going to have to work that out,” the second ranking State Department official said.

He also discounted suggestions that the agreement was in trouble because statements by US lawmakers about deadlines imposed by the US election calendar were putting pressure on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Other officials too have made similar comments reflecting the US viewpoint describing the nuclear deal as a symbolic centrepiece of the new strategic relationship with India.

But of late with doubts arising about the deal being completed before Bush leaves office, they have also stressed about the wide-ranging relationship with India in defence and other fields.