From: Reuters
Published February 25, 2008 08:04 AM

India hopeful on nuclear deal despite adamant left

By Krittivas Mukherjee

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India said on Monday it was still hopeful of clinching a nuclear deal with the United States, in what analysts said was an indication the government was making a final effort to convince its communist allies about the pact.

Indian President Pratibha Patil told parliament on Monday that she still hoped the deal would go through, after warnings from the U.S. government that time was fast running out.

"There is fresh spine in the government in taking on the communists," said political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan. "The government knows this is the last chance for the deal."

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But Patil's optimism was swiftly rejected by a senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M), which has threatened to bring down the government if the deal goes through.

Communists say the pact, which will give India access to U.S. nuclear fuel and equipment, infringes on India's sovereignty and undermines its security.

But they have allowed the government to continue talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over the deal.

"There is no change in our position," the CPI(M)'s Sitaram Yechury told a news conference.

"Our position is what it was -- that is: do not proceed to operationalize the deal. We will continue to hold the same view when the IAEA agreement draft comes to us."

Analysts said the government was partly posturing in response to American pressure and was unlikely to invite early elections by pushing the deal through against the wishes of the communists, whose support the ruling coalition relies on in parliament.

"Will the government overrule the communists? That's something difficult to say and will depend on how ready the government is for an early election," political commentator Praful Bidwai said. "But definitely the government is making a push."

To go into effect, the pact has to clear three hurdles.

India must reach an agreement with the IAEA to place its civilian nuclear reactors under U.N. safeguards, and get clearance from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group that governs global civilian nuclear trade.

After those steps, it must secure a final approval from the U.S. Congress, where it enjoys bipartisan support but where its passage could be complicated by the short legislative calendar ahead of the U.S. November 4 election.

U.S. officials have warned the deal could be renegotiated under a new U.S. administration and India might never get the same terms again.

India begins a fifth round of talk with the IAEA for a safeguards agreement in Vienna on Monday.

A spokesman for the ruling Congress party said it remained committed to the deal.

"We emphatically stand for the deal ... no amount of statements from either side will change our position," Abhishek Manu Singhvi told reporters.

(Additional reporting by Nigam Prusty; Editing by Simon Denyer and Alex Richardson)

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