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Indian Prime Minister Doubtful About US Nuclear Deal


India's Prime Minister has told President Bush that his government is facing problems finalizing a controversial civilian nuclear-energy agreement with the United States. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the government appears to be backtracking from its commitment to the deal because of objections from its political allies.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says "certain difficulties" have arisen in implementing a civilian nuclear-energy deal signed with Washington this August.

An Indian government statement says Mr. Singh spoke to President Bush by telephone from Nigeria on Monday.

The Indian prime minister voiced his doubts to the U.S. president days after he said in New Delhi that "it is not the end of life" if the deal does not go through. He said he would be disappointed, but his is not a one-issue government.

Mr. Singh's statements mark a sharp turnaround from his earlier firm commitment to the nuclear deal.

Political analysts say the government is stepping back from a confrontation with its communist allies, which are crucial to the survival of the government. The communists have threatened to withdraw support if Mr. Singh's coalition presses ahead with the accord.

An independent political analyst in New Delhi, Mahesh Rangarajan, says Mr. Singh clearly no longer wants to stake the survival of his government on the issue of the nuclear deal.

"There is no question, there is a rethinking on the part of the prime minister, the government, the ruling coalition. It prefers to remain in office until the general elections are due in middle of 2009," said Rangarajan. "So, the prime minister has no doubt revised his views on the urgency and the immediacy of the Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement."

The accord holds the promise of giving India access to civilian technology it was long denied because it has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and has tested nuclear weapons.

But a series of steps is needed to make the deal operational. India must negotiate separate agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other bodies, Nuclear Suppliers Group. Then, the accord must get final approval from U.S. lawmakers. Officials on both sides had hoped the deal would go through before the United States heads into a presidential election year in 2008.

But political analyst Rangarajan says it appears unlikely the nuclear deal will be finalized any time soon.

"I think, at the moment, it goes to sleep," added Rangarajan. "It will be difficult until there is a larger, domestic political consensus in India to move toward the next stage, and in the lifetime of this government, it is unlikely that that will happen."

The deal was conceived by officials in India and the United States as a way to bring New Delhi - a nuclear-weapons state - into the mainstream of nuclear commerce. It has been called "landmark", "historic," and had been touted as a sign of warming relations between the two countries. But, communist parties that support India's governing coalition fear it could bring New Delhi too close to Washington.