The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ranch dodge & full steam on France

New Delhi, Aug. 24: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has decided to call off his visit to President George W. Bush’s Crawford ranch in Texas.

But in a clear sign that he is not backing down in the face of the Left challenge, Singh has decided to widen the ambit of the current debate by inviting other nuclear powers like France to intensify its engagement with India.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy will be the chief guest at India’s 58th Republic Day celebrations on January 26, 2008.

Sarkozy’s France is the world’s largest consumer of nuclear energy and French companies have been deliriously eyeing India’s nuclear energy market.

The 123 Agreement between India and the US names France as one of three countries — the others are Russia and the UK — which will step into the vacuum to continue uninterrupted fuel supply for India in case nuclear cooperation with the US ceases.

By cancelling the ranch visit to meet Bush, Singh seems to be sending a message that he does not want to add fuel to the fight with the Left.

Sources said the trip was to have taken place this weekend — August 24-26 — since Bush spends most of the month on the ranch. But with a political crisis engulfing his government, Singh probably thought cancellation, at least for the time being, was a small price to pay.

Another reason was that the monsoon session of Parliament was originally scheduled to end today. But it will now go on till September 14. Prime Ministers are not expected to leave the country when the House is in session.

Government sources said the Prime Minister was “in no mood to back down” on the nuclear deal and concede the Left demand not to have an India-specific meeting at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Singh believes that India’s growing international reputation will be at stake if a decision is taken to go slow on the nuclear deal.

Foreign ministry sources pointed out that preliminary talks with the IAEA on an India-specific safeguards agreement have been under way for many months, and have been taking place alongside the 123 negotiations.

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