On Board Air India One: Three days after tying up the requisite political support that guaranteed his government’s continued existence, an emboldened Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterated New Delhi’s resolve to proceed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), with an agreement on the agency’s nuclear rules for India.
This is the next step towards the finalization of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, which is strongly opposed by the Left Front, the ally which supports the government without being part of it and plans to withdraw support as early as Tuesday.
Ruling out early elections, Singh, whose United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has secured the support of the Samajwadi Party, expressed confidence that the government would run its full term till next May, when the general election is due.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addresses the media on way to Japan for the G-8 Summit, on Monday. National security adviser M.K. Narayanan (right back) is also seen (Photo by: PTI)
Though Singh declined to give a specific date, it seems likely that the government will signal its intent to go ahead with the deal after his return from the G-8 (Group of Eight, a meeting of the world’s most developed nations) summit in Japan. “As far as the precise date (of going to IAEA), I would not like to say it when we are abroad, but it will be very soon.”
Addressing a press conference, about an hour after Air India One lifted off from New Delhi on Monday, the Prime Minister maintained that he would dwell on the members of the G-8 and the four other outreach countries to extend international support to India to help push the deal, first through IAEA and later through the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
Without the so-called IAEA safeguards, India cannot hope to gain the business of countries exporting nuclear technology, which are grouped in NSG.
NSG is expected to meet within days of IAEA board approval of rules for IAEA inspections of India’s non-military facilities, said one of thee five diplomats who discussed the issue with AP.
Three of the five—all with links to IAEA—said the board could meet as early as 28 July.
IAEA declined to comment.
Stating that the “civil nuclear energy agreement will figure” in the discussions at the G-8 summit in Hokkaido, Singh said he would also take it up in discussions that he proposes to have with the heads of state of Brazil, France, Germany, the US, Russia, Mexico, Canada, South Korea, Australia and Indonesia.
Australia and Canada are both members of NSG and have previously expressed reservations on India being given special treatment without signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which aims to stop the spread of nuclear weapons technology beyond countries that already possess such weapons.
Admitting that he had not received any “firm assurance” from China on its support for the deal, the Prime Minister was confident that when the matter did come up before NSG, India’s neighbour “will not be a problem”.
The Prime Minister maintained that he was confident of facing Parliament on the issue and was not too perturbed about the imminent withdrawal of support by the Left Front. “I am not too worried. And, when such a situation does arise, we are well equipped to deal with it,” he said.
Responding to Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani’s comments suggesting that the UPA get a vote of “confidence” from Parliament before going ahead with the deal, Singh said: “We are not afraid of facing Parliament. We will abide by all the parliamentary norms that should apply to a great democracy that India is. Mr Advani need not give any advice to us.”
Singh also signalled that he would be requesting the political heads he would meet on the sidelines of the G-8 meeting to expedite the process. Given the late move by India, following stiff political resistance from the Left Front, its ability to get the deal through depends on there being no resistance to it at any level—including the final hurdle of the US Congress, which is scheduled to meet one last time in September ahead of the presidential elections in November.
IAEA’s 37 member nations on the board could approve nuclear rules for India within weeks, the diplomats said.
AP’s George Jahn contributed to this story from Vienna.