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PM takes nuke case beyond borders

New Delhi, March 5: After deciding to address the concerns of minorities and the Left on the nuclear deal with the US, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has turned his attention to neutralising misgivings that may crop up abroad.

Singh spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin late last night and accepted his invitation to share the high table with the Group of Eight in St Petersburg in July.

Sources close to the Prime Minister said Putin was “fully on board” on the nuclear cooperation agreement principally because, as a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Russia can sell arms and nuclear fuel to India.

Singh has also asked Pranab Mukherjee to articulate India’s point of view with another global power, China, when the defence minister travels to Beijing later this month on a scheduled visit.

Official sources in Beijing were quoted by PTI as describing Mukherjee’s visit a “major event in the bilateral ties in 2006”, but the minister will have his task cut out because China has apparently still to reconcile itself to the Indian deal with the US.

A statement put out by the Chinese foreign ministry reflected the caution, hoping that the cooperation of “relevant countries... conforms to the regulations of the international non-proliferation regime and their own international obligations”.

The need to bring China fully on board became a political imperative after Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf suggested to a gathering in Islamabad on March 3 ' hours before President George W. Bush was to land there ' that China was as important an ally for him as America and warned that any effort to project New Delhi as a counter to Beijing could set off an arms race.

Pakistan information minister Sheikh Rashid was more explicit and said Washington had succeeded in “pocketing” New Delhi, implying that the US would bank on India to pursue its strategic interests in the region.

Government sources in Delhi had in their own way endorsed Rashid’s view by maintaining that Washington was keen to push ahead with the deal because India would emerge as its “strongest buffer” against China.

However, a senior cabinet minister said he was sceptical of this reading. Apart from growing trade and defence links, India had to treat China “respectfully” because Beijing had accepted the Sikkim merger and recognised the need for an early resolution of the border dispute, the minister pointed out.

Any insinuation of an Indo-US strategic partnership that went beyond the confines of the written statement and impinged on China and Pakistan’s interests may eventually be detrimental to India, he said.

Sources had said yesterday that the Prime Minister would hold meetings with minority leaders and the Left to clear the air on the US deal.

In his 20-minute conversation with Putin, the Prime Minister said he welcomed Moscow’s efforts to address Iran’s nuclear programme through dialogue and consultation.

The International Atomic Energy Agency will meet tomorrow to discuss the issue and Singh will also reply in Parliament to the Iran debate.

Sources said India backed Moscow’s proposal to have a joint venture with Tehran for uranium enrichment on Russian soil. They added that Singh feels a vote must be avoided because India could not afford to “alienate” Iran.

Putin ratified today an agreement that will allow diplomats and officials of India and Russia to stay in the two countries without a visa for 90 days.

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