The Indian ruling coalition's communist allies may allow the government to negotiate safeguards for a civilian nuclear agreement with the U.S., while retaining the right to veto the deal's further progress.
A panel set up by the coalition and the left parties to discuss concerns over the accord may consider such a proposition, A.B. Bardhan, general secretary of the Communist Party of India, said in an interview yesterday on the NDTV 24×7 television channel.
Bardhan's remark indicates a softening of the stand by the communist parties, whose support is crucial to the coalition government's majority in parliament. The left parties, who oppose the agreement, had earlier turned down the government's plea to allow the start of negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the global nuclear watchdog.
The 2005 nuclear energy accord, which seeks to end three decades of India's nuclear isolation and give access to U.S. technology and equipment, has been stalled because of resistance from the communist parties.
“Yes, it can be allowed, provided they come back before initializing it, before sending it to the IAEA's board of governors,'' Bardhan said. The government should stop proceeding with the agreement if the communists then reject the deal.
Excerpts from the text of the interview were sent by e-mail by the television channel.
Bardhan's comments come after Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), yesterday said “something will come out'' of the talks with the ruling coalition on the nuclear deal as neither side was “adamant.''
Both leaders spoke three days after they held talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Indian National Congress party president Sonia Gandhi to sort out differences on the agreement. The Congress party heads the federal ruling coalition.
“I am hopeful something will come out,'' Karat told reporters in New Delhi yesterday. “If there is no possibility, I will not say we are going to meet again.''
Karat said the date of the next meeting between the coalition and the communists will be decided in two days. The government hasn't held any formal talks with the global atomic energy regulator on safeguards for its nuclear plants, one of the steps needed for taking the accord forward.
The government is making efforts to push forward the agreement, delayed because of domestic opposition, Prime Minister Singh said on Oct. 30. Singh indicated on Oct. 12 he's prepared to forego the agreement to prevent the collapse of his government.
Delays in implementing the accord may stall plans to buy reactors from General Electric Co. and Westinghouse Electric Co. that the country needs to help build 40,000 megawatts of nuclear capacity by 2020, equivalent to one-third of current generation.
Apart from the safeguards agreement with the IAEA for international inspections, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a 45- nation forum dedicated to limiting the spread of atomic weapons, has to approve the accord. The agreement would then be subject to ratification by the U.S. Congress.
India's communist parties contend the accord will weaken the nation's ability to follow an independent foreign policy and compromise the country's own scientific capability. They want the agreement to be delayed until it is debated in parliament.
Nuclear sanctions were imposed against India after it tested atomic bombs in 1974. Under the agreement being proposed, the U.S. would accept that India, which exploded nuclear devices again in 1998, operates its civilian and military programs outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The ruling coalition, which has 225 seats in the 545-seat lower house of parliament, depends on the 59 seats of the four Communist parties for a majority.