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Small steps to N-finish line

New Delhi, Sept. 19: India and the US are taking small, determined steps — in Delhi, Vienna and in the US next week — that seem to be taking the nuclear deal to its logical conclusion.

Foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee, who presided over the second meeting with the Left parties today, will meet US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in New York next week.

Around the time Mukherjee was meeting the Left, US ambassador David Mulford called on Shyam Saran, the Prime Minister’s special envoy, to reiterate that India should not slip up on its “next steps” deadline.

Despite the action in the US next week, all eyes in the government will be focused on the CPM politburo and central committee meetings beginning in Calcutta on September 27.

The hope is the Bengal Left would persuade its Delhi counterparts to create “a few more half-spaces”, enabling both sides to hammer out a compromise.

Sources said although Delhi was willing to give the political committee with the Left “its best shot”, it was on course to taking the nuclear deal to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Mulford’s advice to India drew the Left’s ire. The CPM politburo said the UPA “should tell the country whether it plans to adhere to this time-frame or examine the serious objections raised to the agreement…”.

America’s nuclear pointman Richard Stratford flew into Vienna today to informally meet all 45 members of the NSG on the sidelines of the IAEA board of governors meeting. The Left claimed that it has been assured India would not attend the session. In any case, India is not an NSG member.

The US has told Delhi that if it can get its safeguards agreement cleared by the IAEA during its meeting on November 22, it is willing to call an extraordinary session of the NSG to clear the matter.

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