Wed, Oct 10, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Nuclear pact with US strains India's ruling coalition


International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei stands in front of the Gateway of India, an important historical monument, in Mumbai, India, yesterday.


International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei began a three-day visit to India yesterday as the country's ruling coalition appeared headed for a break-up over a civil nuclear energy pact with the US.

The IAEA head landed in the western commercial hub of Mumbai late on Monday amid a spike in tensions between the ruling Congress party and its communist allies.

The government says the deal with Washington, which would allow energy-hungry India to buy nuclear energy technology while possessing weapons despite not having signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is vital for sustained economic growth.

But India's left-wing argues it will pull traditionally non-aligned India uncomfortably close to the US and compromise New Delhi's military program. They have threatened to bring down the government if the pact is "operationalized."

ElBaradei's visit includes trips to Indian nuclear facilities such as the premier Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, said SK Malhotra, spokesman for the department of atomic energy.

ElBaradei will meet today Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, who appears to be steaming ahead with starting talks with the IAEA on a special pact that will allow the deal to be implemented.

Officials say New Delhi must clinch the IAEA pact in the coming weeks to meet a deadline to get final approval for the agreement from the US Congress.

A 15-member panel of Congress party and communist lawmakers set up to iron out differences between the two sides was to meet in New Delhi later yesterday.

Three previous meetings have failed to result in a compromise.

The communists also called for a special internal meeting on Oct. 18 to discuss the next course of action, fueling speculation that early elections are imminent.

Critics, including many in the US Congress, say the deal unfairly rewards India and undercuts a US-led campaign to curtail nuclear ambitions of nations like Iran.

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