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Indian Left Meets to Discuss Government's Nuclear Accord with US

22 August 2007

In India, communists are meeting to decide whether they will withdraw crucial support from the Congress-led coalition government if it presses ahead with a civilian nuclear agreement with the United States. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi that there are fears the dispute could threaten the government.

Senior leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M) began a two-day meeting in New Delhi Wednesday. It comes days after they delivered an ultimatum to the Congress-led government, saying: stall a civilian nuclear deal recently negotiated with the United States, or face "serious consequences."

The deal would give India access to long-denied nuclear technology to build nuclear power plants in the energy-starved country. It has yet to be approved by the U.S. Congress.

India's leftist parties object strongly to the accord. They say it undermines the country's sovereignty and its right to conduct nuclear tests. They insist the government stall negotiations, scheduled with the International Atomic Energy Agency and others, until their objections are met.

The CPI(M) is trying to agree on a strategy toward the government if it presses ahead with the accord. Withdrawal of support from the government is one option under consideration.

Independent political analyst, Prem Shankar Jha, says the communists will back down from their tough posture if they are offered a compromise - but he sees no signs of this.

"They (left parties) are looking for a face-saver to be offered to them by the Congress, and there is to my mind no real sign so far that the Congress is intending to give them the face-saver," he said. "They have said everything they can in parliament over and over again. They have stuck to what they have said."

Indeed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has indicated he has no intentions of backing out of the deal.

He says his government remains committed to developing a nuclear energy capability to meet the needs of a rapidly growing economy. He urges political parties to appreciate the need to pursue a sound energy security strategy.

But leftist parties insist the nuclear deal will bring India into a strategic partnership with the United States - something they do not want to endorse.

A bloc of four leftist parties, of which the CPI (M) is the largest, has 60 lawmakers in parliament. They have not joined the Congress-led coalition government, but shore it up from outside. Without their support, it could stay in office as a minority government or may have to face early elections. The Congress-led coalition came to power in 2004.

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