Pranab to discuss N-deal with Rice, Bush

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Washington, Mar 24: External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee who arrived here last night for bilateral talks with US leaders is scheduled to meet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today to discuss the stalled US-India civil Nuclear deal.

Mr Mukherjee, who is accompanied by Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and other officials, will meet National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley later in the day at the White House apparently to exchange views on the general situation in the region. President Bush is expected to drop in during their meeting as had happened during the visits of Indian External Affairs Ministers in the past. Mr "Mukherjee's discussions will include a review of all aspects of the India-US bilateral relationship," says officials.

This is Mukherjee's first visit to the United States after assuming his present office and also first by an External Affairs Minister in three years. His predecessor Natwar Singh came here in 2005.

The visit comes after India has finalised the text of the country-specific safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). But, it had also been made clear that government would not sign the document unless approved by its Left Allies whose support is vital for its survival.

However, the visit has generated a considerable interest here following his Wednesday's Rajya Sabha saying: "We are in a stage where neither we can mend it nor end it. We are in the dialogue stage." He made the statement while defending the accord.

Besides official parleys, Mr Mukherjee will have an interaction with Washington's Foreign Affairs Community at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace where media will not be allowed.


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