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Nuke ‘time’ game, Round 7

New Delhi, March 16: The UPA-Left joint panel will sit for its seventh round of talks tomorrow on the nuclear deal but sources on both sides said it would not be a “make-or-break” meeting.

The allies will meet for at least one more round before the fate of the agreement is sealed, they said, because both are “playing for time”.

Congress sources said the party, pushed by its UPA partners, had decided that the deal advocates would “lie low” and not respond to America’s public exertions.

Its core committee, which includes Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee, were to meet tonight.

Government sources claimed India had got “more than a good deal” from atomic watchdog IAEA, but were worried on other counts: whether the Left would share their optimism on the text agreed in Vienna.

Another worry was what CPM general secretary Prakash Karat, CPI chief A.B. Bardhan and others would say of the next stage in the deal-making when the US role became crucial.

The IAEA document is expected to be circulated among members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, where, in theory, India has nothing to do.

However, the US is expected to leverage its clout in the NSG to evolve a consensus among its 45 members and secure for India a waiver of the group’s rule on the conduct of nuclear commerce.

But CPM sources said the government “could not isolate” the NSG talks from the US domestic Hyde Act, which imposes restrictions on nuclear co-operation with Delhi, and the bilateral 123 Agreement where the deal was “anchored”.

A politburo member warned: “If the government goes ahead with the NSG (talks), we will have to withdraw support.”

Congress sources claimed they saw a “window of hope” in Bardhan’s interview telecast yesterday.

The CPI leader had sounded ambivalent on a possible Left veto on the NSG talks and suggested the government make a statement asking the Left to “let this process carry on to the point at which the NSG waiver is done”.

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