Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and the US administration both remain adamant that progress can be made on the US-India nuclear cooperation agreement, despite Singh's admission to US president George Bush that he was facing difficulties implementing the deal.
Singh told Bush during a 15 October teleconference that "certain difficulties" had arisen with the "operationalization" of the agreement. This was largely seen as the first sign that India might back off from a deal which would allow nuclear trade between the countries for the first time in 30 years.
Nevertheless, speaking on the sidelines of an official visit to Africa, Singh told reporters today that: "The process of evolving a meaningful consensus is still on." Singh's Congress party and its allies are due to meet on 22 October for further discussions on the deal.
India's communist parties have been vociferous in their opposition to the bilateral on the grounds that its conditions would give the USA influence over Indian foreign policy, and had threatened to withdraw their support from the coalition government if the bilateral were to proceed. The parties indicated that they would force early elections if Singh took steps to implement the agreement. The deal has also faced criticism from some of India's right-wing politicians. Singh's admission to the US President has been seen by commentators as an indication that he is not willing to risk bringing down the government before scheduled elections in 2009 for the sake of the nuclear agreement.
Facing questions about the deal in the US State Department's daily press briefing earlier this week, spokesman Tom Casey emphasized the administration's continuing support for the agreement but would not be drawn into criticism of the Indian government. "I'm not going to try and tell the Indians how to manage their own internal process on this. We certainly think this is again an arrangement that's positive for both countries and the broader international community and we'd like to see it done as soon as possible, but that's within the context of what each country has to do and has to accomplish," he said.
Once elected politicians in each country accept the text of the agreement, India would then need to negotiate a specific nuclear safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). After that the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group would enter negotiations to amend its guidelines or formulate an exception for India.
Both countries had hoped to implement the agreement in 2008 ahead of US presidential elections and the end of the Indian government's current term.
Prime Minister of India's Office: Press release of teleconference
USDepartment of State: Daily Press Briefings
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