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US says nuclear deal with India ‘not dead’

The United States still thinks a landmark nuclear accord with India can be salvaged even though Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh admits facing trouble pushing the controversial agreement within his coalition government.

“It’s not dead,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said after Singh explained to President George W. Bush that “certain difficulties” had arisen in implementing the India-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement.

Singh, who had been pushing for the conclusion of the deal as his key foreign policy achievement, conveyed the message to Bush during a phone conversation late Monday.

It was a new sign that Singh’s key Congress party may have caved in to pressure from communist and other left-wing parties that prop up the government in parliament.

Fratto said India needed to be given time to digest the deal, first agreed more than two years ago between Bush and Singh as a key component of a strategic partnership between the world’s two giant democracies.

“India is a thriving democracy and they have work to do and they may need some additional time on their end to get their part of this deal done,” he said.

“The President is willing and is very understanding that the Indians may need more time for this. But no, it’s not it’s not dead,” he said.

The US State Department hoped India would move forward with the agreement, which it wanted completed in 2008. “The United States has worked very hard and has met its commitments under the agreement and we are going to continue to work hard to fulfill it,” said Tom Casey, a department spokesman. He pointed out that Washington did not want to interfere in India’s internal politics.

Opponents of the deal in the ruling Indian coalition are worried that traditionally non-aligned India is getting too close to Washington, and that the government may be compromising the future development of the country’s nuclear weapons program.

Left-wing parties have been threatening to withdraw their support for the government in parliament over the deal, a move that would force early elections.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the US Arms Control Association, said even though the deal was not dead, “it is certainly in the hospital and the prospects that it can be revived are looking dimmer and dimmer.”

A US lawmaker critical of the nuclear agreement said concerns about the ramifications of the deal had created more critics in Congress.

“I suspect very few members of Congress will mourn the passing of this terribly flawed proposal,” said Edward Markey, a senior member of the House of Representatives energy and commerce committee.

Under the agreement, the United States would provide India with nuclear fuel and technology even though the Asian nuclear-armed giant has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

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