Published October 22, 2007 10:33 AM

India government sets new talks on nuclear deal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's government and its communist allies agreed on Monday to hold a further meeting next month over a nuclear deal with the United States, the latest sign the ruling coalition was backtracking on finalizing the accord.

"The next meeting of the committee will be held on November 16, 2007," Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters.

The statement came after a committee meeting between the government and its communist allies, who oppose the deal. The decision further signals that the government will not force through the nuclear deal, given the depth of leftist opposition.

The four main left parties that prop up Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition had threatened to end support if the deal was pursued.

The civilian nuclear cooperation deal aims to lift a three-decade ban on sales of U.S. nuclear fuel and reactors to India, imposed after it conducted a nuclear test in 1974, while staying out of non-proliferation agreements.



Singh has said he hopes to avoid elections over the deal and told President George W. Bush that there were "certain difficulties" in pursuing it.

While the deal has been hailed as the cornerstone of a new friendship between Washington and New Delhi, the communists say it hurts India's sovereignty and imposes American hegemony.

The face-off pushed Singh's government to the brink of collapse, sparked the prospect of snap elections and hurt sentiment on India's stock markets before the coalition blinked under pressure from other allies opposed to an early vote.

India needs to conclude a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, get approvals from the Nuclear Suppliers Group and a second backing from the U.S. Congress before the deal can come into force.

Although it faces no formal deadline, Washington wants the pact -- considered highly lucrative for American firms -- clinched next year before the end of Bush's term to avoid its fate becoming uncertain under a new administration.

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