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Singh lets out nuke volley

On board Air-India One, June 9: An upbeat Prime Minister questioned the “patriotic” credentials of politicians opposing the nuclear deal with the US and indicated that the two nations are well on their way to the resolution of its trickiest aspects.

Speaking on board the special flight returning home from the G8 summit in Germany, Manmohan Singh also challenged the BJP to a contest on the presidential polls.

As the “governing” alliance, he said, the UPA has the right to propose its own nominee for President, just as the NDA had done with A.P.J. Abdul Kalam five years ago — and the Congress had accepted.

But it was on the nuclear deal that the Prime Minister was most direct. Clearly, Singh had been stung by criticism that he was willing to barter away India’s nuclear sovereignty.

“Any patriotic Indian, if he or she had the reins of running this country, would welcome the deal,” he said. Then, swinging a side swipe at the BJP’s leaders rumoured to have attempted a similar deal with the US when in power, the Prime Minister added: “You should judge politicians not when they are in the Opposition but when they are in power.’’

The atmospherics as well as the content of his 10-minute meeting with US President George W. Bush yesterday in Heiligendamm had been very good, he said. “The President appreciated our concerns. He is very positive about India. He feels a certain ownership about the nuclear deal. I am satisfied with the meeting.”

Then he went on to bluntly express his own ownership of the deal: “It will end India’s nuclear isolation. It will preserve the integrity of our strategic programme. It will open up new paths.”

Negotiators are to resume technical-level discussions and both sides now hope they will be able to wrap up the deal when US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice comes to India in end-July or early August.

But Singh also pointed to the tough negotiations that still need to be done “before there is light at the end of the tunnel”.

Sources said the Singh-Bush talks as well as those between national security adviser M.K. Narayanan and his US counterpart Steve Hadley had gone off so well the US was signaling its intention to compromise on the two key counts of concern to India — reprocessing rights of spent fuel and immunity for the strategic fuel reserve.

The Prime Minister admitted as much. “Bush took copious notes of what I told him,” he said.

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