Indian minister says snap elections unlikely over nuclear deal

The Congress Party and its allies wanted elections as scheduled in 2009 and it was unlikely that the government would fall over differences on the India-United States civilian nuclear deal, India's Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said during a television interview Saturday. ( dpa )

The left-wing partners of India's ruling alliance have warned that they may withdraw crucial support to the minority government, if it goes ahead with the deal which they feel may go against India's strategic interests.

The bilateral deal would allow the US to export fissile materials to India ending a three-decade ban.

"Nobody is talking of holding elections now. There is no talk of sacrificing the government for something," Mukherjee said during an interview to NDTV television channel when asked if there was a debate within his party on whether the nuclear deal was worth sacrificing the government for.

Muhkerjee belongs to the Congress Party, leading partner in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been a vocal supporter of the civilian nuclear deal saying nuclear energy would be essential to at least partly meet the Indian economy's growing needs.

When asked about the May deadline being cited by US officials as the latest date to tie up loose ends to secure the nuclear deal, Mukherjee said India had conveyed to Washington that New Delhi cannot work within specific deadlines.

In an interview to Outlook magazine a day earlier, Mukherjee had said the nuclear deal could not be signed without the support of the left.

"A minority government cannot, need not and should not sign a major agreement like this," Mukherjee had said.

He said Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Prakash Karat had written to him requesting a meeting to discuss negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

India has to reach a country-specific safeguards arrangement with the IAEA, the Nuclear Suppliers Group has to change its guidelines before the deal goes back to the US Congress for approval before the US can start transferring technology or material.

Regarding the left parties' warnings, Mukherjee said during the NDT interview that it was nothing new. "Generally, I can say that they have all along maintained their position that if you proceed with civilian nuclear cooperation with the US, then they will have to withdraw support. It is decision of their policy-making bodies," he said.

Meanwhile, senior left party leaders said Saturday that they did not want to destabilize the government but simply wanted to stop the nuclear deal with the US.

"We are opposed to the deal because in our opinion it is not in the interest of India or its people," senior CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechuri said.

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