Washington: Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee has said that it cannot commit to any US timeline for finalization of a landmark nuclear deal caught in a deadlock among its ruling coalition partners.
He said that New Delhi needed “more time” to forge an agreement on the deal despite a tight 2008 US legislative calendar ahead of the November presidential polls.
US President George W Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed more than two years ago on the deal, in which Washington would provide India with nuclear fuel and technology even though the Asian nation has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The agreement failed to win the support of the ruling Congress-led coalition’s Communist allies, who feared the sovereignty of the nuclear armed nation would be compromised and New Delhi might ally more closely with the United States.
“At this juncture, it is difficult for me to indicate any time frame by which we will be able to complete this process,” Mukherjee told a news conference in Washington after talks with President George W Bush and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.
Resolution between Indian political parties will take time
“We are trying to resolve the issues but it may take some more time.” The Bush administration and the US Congress has warned India about limited time available for civil nuclear deal to be approved by legislature before Bush leaves the White House in January 2009.
Could the deal clear Congress by mid-year? “I think as that you get further and further into the Congressional calendar, I think it’s fair to say it’s getting more difficult just because of political realities of the press of business,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
“The main issue now is the Indian government working its domestic politics,” he said. Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, had said the agreement had to come before the Senate for approval no later than July.
Asked about time constraints, Mukherjee emphasized that unless outstanding issues among India’s coalition partners was resolved, “it would be difficult for us to (meet) any particular time frame.”
The communist parties, who prop up the minority government in parliament, have threatened to withdraw their support of the government and force early elections if Indian leaders move to implement the deal.
Approval needed from IAEA
The government had defended the pact as critical for providing new fuel sources to keep the energy-hungry nation’s economy growing strongly. Aside from resolving the political problem, India also needs approval from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to place its civilian nuclear reactors under UN safeguards as part of the atomic deal.
In addition, it also needs the green light from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which regulates global civilian nuclear trade. On the prospect for the Indian coalition to forgo the government for the sake of the deal, Mukherjee said, “it’s not a question of sacrificing either the deal or the government.
“Currently, we are engaged in resolving the issues and finding a meeting ground between us and a section of our supporters.” The minister also said that Prime Minister Singh’s administration would have to continue finding common ground on the nuclear deal.
“We shall have to take into acount that even if we sign an important international agreement, if it is subsequently not honored by the next government, it may lead to an embarrasing situation,” he said.
“We want to avert that situation and that’s why we are making this exercise -- it may be very time consuming and it is taxing our patience but nonetheless we do feel it is worth pursuing,” he said.