Indian communists ‘confident of scuttling’ nuclear deal with US

New Delhi, October 10:

India’s Communists are “confident of blocking” a controversial Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, a party official said today, suggesting that the dominant Congress Party did not want to face early polls.

A senior Communist Party leader told AFP that a four-party left-wing bloc, which props up Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government in parliament, had made it perfectly clear that they “were against the agreement” with Washington.

“We conveyed our sentiments to the government” during a meeting yesterday between Congress and its legislative allies, said the official who asked not to be named.

“We told them clearly that we are opposed to the deal and if the government still wanted to proceed they would have to face the consequences,” he said, repeating a threat that his party could bring down the government.

The Communists have repeatedly threatened to withdraw their support in parliament if the government pushes ahead with the the pact.

After several weeks of promoting the deal with with Washington, yesterday the Congress-led government promised further talks on the dispute later this month — effectively stalling steps to fully implement the agreement.

The Communist Party official said Congress now looked unwilling to run the risk of losing its allies and facing early polls. “We have heard that some other allies of Congress are worried about going for elections,” he said. “They do not feel that this (the Indo-US deal) is an issue worth sacrificing the government for and, I think, are pressuring the government.”

A report from Washington said the United States has said it supports India in its efforts to complete the remaining steps to conclude their civil nuclear deal, but will leave the timing to New Delhi. Apparently mindful of the crisis facing the Indian government over opposition to the deal from its communist allies, a US official sought to downplay reports that India had not yet approached the IAEA to get its nod.

Asked if IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei’s reported remarks that New Delhi hadn’t approached him yet to begin talks on the issue troubled Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack noted yesterday that several steps were needed to finally conclude the deal.

“It’s going to be up to the Indian government to go through some of those steps on their own. There are some things that they will need to do by themselves. Of course, we support them in those efforts. The timing of that is going to be up to them, though,” he said.

On its part, the Bush administration will also keep working with members of US Congress to reassure them of the importance of the deal, McCormack said.