Mukherjee to discuss Indo-US Nuclear Agreement with Rice

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Washington, Mar 24 (UNI) External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee will exchange views with his US counterpart Condoleezza Rice at lunch here today on the stalled Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement.

After an an hour-long preliminary discussions on bilateral issues this morning, Mr Mukherjee and Ms Rice briefly met the media and said they would meet again at the lunch to discuss the nuclear issues.

Mr Mukherjee said it was a known fact that India had some problems over the issue.

He is expected to spell out his government's latest position on the issue.

Ms Rice, however, said on the US side there was no such problem and it was awaiting India's response to the nuclear deal.

Mr Mukherjee, who is accompanied by Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and other officials, will also meet National Security Adviser Stephen J 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 Indo-US bilateral relationship,'' officials said.

This is Mr 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 statement in the Rajya Sabha on wednesday. ''We are in a stage where neither we can mend it nor end it. We are in the dialogue stage.'' He said while defending the accord.

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