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Atal chip in PM gamble with Bush

New York, Sept. 14: Undeterred by opposition both in India and in the US, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush yesterday reviewed the progress of their nuclear deal struck in July and reiterated the commitment of both their governments to pursue the agreement further in the months to come.

“Mr Prime Minister, you are a good man. I can do business with you,” Bush told Singh, employing his famous Texan charm to lift a cloud that had surrounded their meeting after severe attacks on external affairs minister Natwar Singh on Capitol Hill last week.

He referred to their nuclear agreement in July and said his administration was committed to pursuing it.

Bush acknowledged that there was opposition in the US Congress to his decision to engage in “full civil nuclear energy cooperation” with India, but hoped that the legislature will “adjust US laws and policies” to facilitate the transfer of American nuclear technology and equipment.

Responding to this acknowledgement, the Prime Minister said there was opposition in India also. There was broad agreement in Parliament for the July joint statement, he told Bush. In this context, he told the US President that he was surprised by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s opposition to the nuclear deal.

By referring to opposition in India and by dragging in Vajpayee’s name in his conversation with Bush, the Prime Minister was employing a risky, but clever, strategy to ensure that the nuclear agreement goes through to its logical end.

Sections of the Bush administration and a large number of American legislators would like to introduce quid pro quos to the agreement at this stage.

In recent weeks, they have been working to scuttle India’s relations with Iran and secure New Delhi’s support against Tehran’s nuclear programme.

By referring to opposition in India to the nuclear deal ' indeed, to the whole package of Indo-US engagement, including the joint statement and the framework for defence relations ' Manmohan Singh was signalling to Bush that India would not bend over backwards to accommodate Washington.

By bringing in Vajpayee, the Prime Minister lent respectability and credibility to opposition within India to what the government was doing with the Bush administration.

But his comment has triggered outrage in the BJP which said Singh had broken with tradition by discussing domestic politics abroad.

Contrary to this controversy, the statement was, actually, a fitting sequel to Bush’s acknowledgement and the due respect he showed for the legislative process in the US.

Foreign secretary Shyam Saran reinforced that impression when he briefed Indian correspondents after the Prime Minister’s meeting with Bush.

“The Indo-US agreement on the nuclear issue is spelt out in the joint statement,” Saran said.

There was no question of India shouldering any additional responsibilities, he added.

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