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Left again hardens line on nuclear deal
NEW DELHI |
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The leftist parties said on Wednesday that they would not join a panel to study a controversial nuclear deal with the United States if the government moved ahead with negotiations on the pact.
On Monday, the communists agreed to join the government panel - which would aim to address their concerns over the "123 Agreement" between the two powerful democracies - but two days later, they hardened their line.
"The government must put on hold this 123 agreement and then go for some sort of mechanism or committee," Debabrata Biswas, the chief of the Forward Bloc, a small left party, told reporters after a meeting of all the four main communist parties.
Biswas was speaking for the entire left, which has 60 MPs out of the 545-member lower house of parliament, and gives Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition its majority.
The government panel would most likely consist of politicians and scientists, and possibly former diplomats, political leaders said.
"The government must publicly indicate they would not go ahead with talks, if they want us to join any panel," D. Raja of the Communist Party of India told Reuters after the meeting.
The opposition by the left to the deal is the biggest challenge for Singh, who came to power in 2004 with communist backing, and has raised fears his government would not last its full term until 2009.
The civilian nuclear deal was finalised in July after months of tough negotiations between Washington and New Delhi.
But the Indian government has to negotiate safeguards for its civilian nuclear reactors with the International Atomic Energy Agency and get the approval of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group to allow the pact to operate on the ground.
But the communists -- who say that the deal undermines India's independent foreign and nuclear policy and draws New Delhi into Washington's strategic orbit -- are against further talks, unless their concerns are addressed.
This month, they warned of "serious consequences" -- implying a readiness to withdraw support to the Congress party-led coalition -- if the government went ahead with talks with the IAEA.
But talks between the coalition and the left are expected on Thursday, with a parliament debate likely next week.
The nuclear deal, hailed by many Indian foreign policy analysts as historic and beneficial for energy-hungry India, aims to allow New Delhi to buy U.S. nuclear fuel and reactors, despite India having tested nuclear weapons and not having signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
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