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Indian PM to Finalize Nuclear Deal with US

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is desperately trying to salvage a nuclear deal with the United States that would give his country access to nuclear fuel and technology for its power plants, despite its refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Mr. Singh says although there is some political opposition in India to the deal, he hopes to take a positive message to President Bush when he meets him next week at the G8 summit in Japan. VOA's Ravi Khanna has more.

On Monday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a public plea to his leftist allies in parliament to let the deal move ahead. He wants to finalize an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency before he goes to the G8 summit next week.

That agreement would mandate international inspections of India's civilian nuclear facilities.

After that, he says he will present the deal to Parliament, before it goes to the U. S. Congress for final approval.

"We have to go to the IAEA to get an India-specific (nuclear) safeguards agreement. Then we have to go to the Nuclear Suppliers Group to relax their present restrictive attitudes toward trade with India in nuclear materials," PM Singh said.

But communist lawmakers like Prakash Karat oppose the deal.

"The bilateral agreement negotiated with the United States administration will bind India into a strategic alliance with the US with long term consequences," Karat said.

The communists say if the deal goes ahead, they would not support the ruling coalition in a no-confidence vote.

Reports from New Delhi say Mr. Singh is trying to win the support instead of opposition parties.

South Asia expert Walter Andersen, at the Johns Hopkins University, says he understands Mr. Singh's urgency.

"Something literally has to be done in the next week or two for the present U.S. Congress to take it up before the next Congress sits on January the 20th. And the next Congress may be less friendly (toward the deal) than the present one," Andersen said.

He says if opponents in India continue to delay, time could run out and there will be no deal at all. He says the chances of a new U.S. administration approving the deal are slim.

"Would a new administration of Barrack Obama or John Mccain be as enthusiastic? Neither one has shown the same kind of interest that George Bush has shown," Andersen said. "And in fact Obama has shown more interest in nuclear non-proliferation measures."

In Washington, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Joseph Biden said Monday, if India gets IAEA approval, he will work hard to get the deal approved.

South Asia specialist at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Dennis Kux, says India's failure to clinch the deal could raise questions about its future as a great power.

"This was something the government of India negotiated, the government of India got what it wanted and then it does not appear to have the fortitude to push it through. That does not put India in the best light," Kux said.

Kux says considering India's growing economy, the country needs power, and the deal will provide India not only with power, but clean power.