| Singh at a news conference on board his aircraft. (PTI)
On board the Prime Minister’s special flight, Nov. 20: The Left leaders may claim that their decision to allow the government to start negotiations with the IAEA was a way of offering an “honourable exit” to the Prime Minister out of the nuclear deal. But Manmohan Singh made it clear today that he was determined to make the most of this window of opportunity and remained hopeful of a “final satisfactory outcome”.
Looking more relaxed and cheerful than he has since the face-off with the Left on the nuclear deal began in early August, Singh exuded confidence that despite “‘some delay” in the original timeline for clinching the deal, the process was on course.
Asked whether the timeline for the deal can be maintained as originally envisaged (i.e. concluding the India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA, the waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the up-down vote in the US Congress in early 2008), the Prime Minister said: “There has been some delay — I cannot deny that.”
He quickly added: “But I still hope that the process of bringing about a viable national consensus will yield results. So I have not given up hope that we can reach a final satisfactory outcome.”
To another question whether the India-specific safeguards agreement would be brought before the UPA-Left committee this year, the Prime Minister said: “Well, I hope as soon as possible. The negotiations are going to begin with the International Atomic Energy Agency. I hope they can be brought to a successful conclusion. We will bring them back to the Left-UPA coordination committee.”
Singh, however, adroitly side-stepped a question on whether the government would go ahead with the deal even if the Left did not give a green signal (to signing the text of the safeguards agreement.)
Asked what he would do if his hoped-for “viable national consensus” proved elusive, Singh said with a smile: “We will cross that bridge when we reach there….”
His media managers stepped in at this point and declared that the interaction had come to an end, preventing any more questions on whether the government was ready to face elections rather than forgo the deal at a later stage.
The Prime Minister’s determination to push through the next stages of the nuclear deal was also evident in his replies on the controversial decision not to finalise an agreement with Russia for the supply of four additional nuclear reactors at Kudankulam.
Explaining why India did not sign the agreement with Russia during his visit to Moscow earlier this month, Singh said: “It has been made known to us that the agreement can be operationalised only if we have an India-specific agreement with the IAEA and also if the NSG gives India the exception from their respective guidelines.”
Once these two steps were taken, the India-Russia agreement would be clinched.
Asked if, therefore, the 123 Agreement (with the US) and the Russian deal were linked, the Prime Minister said: “Well, it has always been understood as such by us as well as the Russians.”
He also said Russia would back India’s case at IAEA and NSG. “I discussed this matter with President (Vladimir) Putin now and in the last two years. Russia has been very very supportive of India.”
What about China' Choosing his words carefully and invoking the power of a double negative, the Prime Minister said: “Well, I think the Chinese have not said they will not support us.”
The Prime Minister’s remarks on the nuclear deal, coupled with his sharp criticism of the Bengal government’s handling of Nandigram, indicated that he was not ready to “compromise” with the Left on either issue beyond a point, PMO sources said.
Although the Left still has veto power over the IAEA agreement when it comes to the UPA-Left panel, pro-deal sections in the government feel that the Left leadership has “lost momentum” and can no longer mount an opposition in the steadfast manner it had done in the initial months of the standoff.
These sections also believe that the “softening” of the Left’s stance stems from fears of early general elections, especially in the light of Nandigram.
However, PMO sources concede, that the last word on the deal has not been said yet and a “political decision” would have to be taken by the end of the year if the Left persisted in opposing the deal after having given its conditional go-ahead.