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Cong tightens nuke screws

New Delhi, Oct. 5: The Congress today told Left leaders the government could not put off the IAEA negotiations “for ever” and could at best keep them “abreast” of what was happening at the talks.

“We said clearly we cannot delay the IAEA talks any more,” said a Congress member of the Left-UPA nuclear deal committee after its third meeting.

“If it’s a choice between going ahead with operationalising the deal and becoming a lame duck government, and cancelling the deal and becoming a dead duck government, we’d rather be a lame duck than a dead duck.”

Congress sources denied the claim by some Left leaders that they were given a “categorical assurance” that no talks, formal or informal, would be held with the IAEA as long as the panel continued to meet.

The committee will meet again on October 9 and 14. IAEA director-general Mohamed ElBaradei is to arrive in India on October 9.

“We cannot wait for ever,” the Congress member said.

The Left’s response at the meeting was an oblique “why can’t we finish our discussions before you start the formal talks'”

Congress sources said it was tempting to treat the “reasonably worded” question as a “legitimate request” but there was no guarantee the Left would not seize an opportune moment to withdraw support or bash the Congress at public forums.

Asked for a reaction, a top Left leader was cautious. “The IAEA talks are not within the ambit of the panel discussions. We are talking of the Hyde Act and the 123 Agreement and their implications for India’s foreign and security policies.”

The Left today iterated its anxiety over the Hyde Act. “The government has failed to convince us that the Hyde Act is not built into the 123 Agreement,” a source said.

On October 9, the Left will raise its concerns on how the nuclear deal might affect India’s ties with Iran, Iraq, the Palestinians and Afghanistan.

The panel will also discuss the security issues of having Indo-US military exercises, buying arms from Israel and the “offer” of logistical support to the US.

The October 14 meeting is expected to signal who would make the first move — whether the Left would withdraw support or the government recommend dissolution of Parliament.

“We are optimistic about the government’s position (on the deal) but not about the government,” the Congress panel member said.

At the meeting, a senior non-Congress UPA leader asked why, if the Left wanted elections, it was keeping everyone hanging on “threats and noises”.

The leader, known for outspokenness, said the post-poll scenario ought to be much the same as now and the Left should prepare itself to work again with the UPA. The Left’s response was it wanted to resolve the “pending” issues.

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