New Delhi: The Indo-US nuclear deal will again take diplomatic and political centre stage as external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee plans to meet US President George W. Bush this week in Washington, DC.
It is unclear what Mukherjee will convey to Bush in light of the continued strong opposition to the deal as illustrated by comments by the Communist Party of India (M) leader Prakash Karat. People familiar with the matter say a certain tension has been building between the two capitals over New Delhi’s presumed unwillingness to take a call on the deal. The Indian side had pushed hard for a meeting with Bush.
Until a few days ago, the US side had refused to confirm the possibility of a meeting with Bush, these people say, suggesting the Americans were unwilling to set one up unless Mukherjee had “something to say, one way or another, on the nuclear deal.”
Besides his conversations with Bush and the US national security adviser Steve Hadley, Mukherjee will also meet US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. Mukherjee is also the chairman of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-Left committee set up to deal with the Left Front’s objections on the nuclear deal.
Contemplating moves: External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee. (Ramesh Pathania / Mint)
On the eve of Mukherjee’s visit, the political focus remained on details that could prevent the government from taking the draft International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agreement to the next stage.
Since the draft agreement needs to be signed by the Indian government before it can go to IAEA’s board of governors for final clearance, it would need the Left’s approval.
Meanwhile, Karat has made it amply clear that if the Congress government goes ahead without Left approval, the Left will withdraw support and reduce the government to a minority. With both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh refuting suggestions of early elections and saying the government would last its full term, which ends over a year from now, it is being read by some as a sign that this government was unwilling to risk its future for the deal.
While the US could in theory take the Indo-US deal to the next critical stage—to the Nuclear Suppliers Group—as that doesn’t need a sign off by the Indian government, Indian political observers say that was unlikely to happen because that move would create significant problems between the UPA and the Left.