New Delhi: An influential delegation of US lawmakers led by Democrat Gary Ackerman said Thursday that if India was ready to deliver the civilian nuclear deal to the US Congress by September, then it could still be passed.
“If they do it on time, we will be prepared,” Ackerman told reporters after meeting foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon and the Prime Minister’s special envoy Shyam Saran, adding, however, that if the deal did not arrive at the US’ doorstep by then, it may be too late.
Asked if it wasn’t late already, Ackerman said, “It’s never late, till it’s late.”
Gary Ackerman, leading a delegation of US lawmakers, will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi today
Ackerman was referring to the “up-down” vote on the 123 Agreement that will be considered by the US Congress if the deal is cleared by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). With US presidential elections due in November, Ackerman warned that the legislation needed to be in place latest by September so the vote could be considered.
Significantly, Ackerman’s September deadline also indicates that the Democratic party is favourably considering an Indian proposal to reduce the number of days any legislation needs to be debated in the US Senate, from 90 days to 1 day.
Indian foreign office officials said on condition of anonymity that India would still make the cut—taking the safeguards agreement to the IAEA board meeting likely at the end of July, then requesting the US to take it to NSG in August, after which it could go to the US Congress by September—and that the request to the IAEA board could be made simply by writing a formal letter.
Considering Atomic Energy Commission chief Anil Kakodkar is a member of the IAEA board, a favourable signal by IAEA head Mohammed El-Baradei could very easily swing the vote in India’s favour, officials in the commission said on condition of anonymity.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is likely to meet US President George Bush on July 9 in Hokkaido, Japan, on the sidelines of the Group of Eight (G-8) summit, as well as several other leaders, is expected to tell him that India will be going ahead with the deal.
Singh’s Congress party-led coalition government is counting on the support of the Samajwadi Party (SP) to survive in office in the event of Left parties withdrawing support over the nuclear agreement. Although the SP hasn’t publicly come out in favour of the Congress on the deal, party leaders said they could still break with the United Nationalist Progressive Alliance, the eight-party alliance of which the SP is the main constituent, on this score.
Meanwhile, Ackerman, 64, who is the Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans and a senior member of the House international relations committee, and is leading a bipartisan delegation of lawmakers to India, will meet the Prime Minister and national security adviser M.K. Narayanan on Friday.
While Ackerman, who is a Padma Bhushan award recipient, has been a big supporter of the nuclear deal, he is also on record as saying India should not pursue its relations with Iran, especially the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline.
Significantly, his meeting with the security adviser comes a few days after Narayanan met Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran and underlined India’s commitment to the $7.5 billion (Rs32,475 crore) pipeline project. While Ackerman is likely to ask Narayanan for India’s views on going ahead with the gas pipeline, his Indian interlocutors are in turn likely to quiz him on what the US believes should be done with the Pakistan leg of the project.
“The pipeline is hugely important to Pakistan,” said strategic analyst K. Subrahmanyam, “so the question is, whether the US approves of Pakistan buying into the pipeline project or not. It is not about India, but actually about Pakistan,” he added.