The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Phew with two views
- Govt safe, jury out on deal

New Delhi, Aug. 30: The deal is dead. Long live the deal.

The UPA and the Left have come up with a marriage preservative which creates an impression that the “pause” button is being pressed on the nuclear deal but keeps options open on operationalising it later.

The operative part of a statement that announced a panel to look into the nuclear agreement said: “The operationalisation of the deal will take into account the committee’s findings.”

The announcement stopped short of an assurance that the deal is being put on hold, but the language is such that it leaves room for the Left to claim victory and for the government to downplay it as a tactical pause.

The breather came three weeks after the Prime Minister disclosed in an interview to The Telegraph that he had told the Left parties that if they wanted to withdraw support over the nuclear deal, “so be it”.

Against the backdrop of such a take-it-or-leave-it position, the Left does appear to have scored a thin edge because today’s statement — not to mention the beaming face of Prakash Karat that was more evocative than the government prose — has created an impression that the UPA has climbed down.

In the larger political context, both sides appear to have bought time to test the ground in case elections reappear on the horizon.

While the Congress will weigh the political benefits and costs of the “deal-or-government” option over the next two months, the Left will step up its “mass campaign” against the alleged Indo-US strategic alliance. The two sides will also use the time to see whether the committee can sort out the nuclear differences.

Left sources claimed the government had given an assurance that it would not go ahead with operationalising the deal as long as the committee did not make up its mind. However, government sources pointed out that the committee could not be open-ended.

The government dismissed suggestions that the deal had been shelved. “The deal is not put on hold,” science minister Kapil Sibal told PTI. A Parliament debate on the deal is “tentatively” scheduled on September 10 and 11.

The government seemed to be bracing for a long haul, though earlier reports had suggested that it was looking at a deadline of March-April 2008 for a “yes-no” vote in the US Congress.

“The deal is not likely to be operationalised this year. The timetable we have in mind is sometime in the latter half of next year,” Sibal said.

The government can afford to wait till the third week of November before activating the operationalising drill. The International Atomic Energy Agency is reconvening on November 22 — the September 10-14 agenda does not mention Indian safeguards.

The statement read out by Pranab Mukherjee, the government’s principal trouble-shooter and the foreign minister, did not say the government was bound to accept the committee’s recommendation.

Besides, foreign ministry sources said key negotiators would continue to talk to key members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. For instance, when Mukherjee attends the UN General Assembly in New York on September 28, he will also refer to the nuclear deal during his engagements with key NSG members.

The sources said that if the committee did not succeed in assuaging the Left, the government would have no option but to go ahead with the deal, in which case early elections would become unavoidable.

By mid-December, the Gujarat elections will also be out of the way. Under the circumstances, the government’s internal deadline — for the committee as well as for starting operationalisation procedures — could fall between December 2007 and January 2008.

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