Bush, Pranab discuss N-deal, bilateral ties

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Washington, Mar 25: External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee met President George W Bush and exchanged views on the whole gamut of international and regional issues, including the stalled US-India Civil Nuclear agreement. Though both sides avoided any comment on yesterday's talks, according to informed sources, the two leaders reportedly voiced satisfaction at the progress in the US-India bilateral ties, including the civil nuclear deal, signed between the two countries in 2005.

The minister is scheduled to address a press conference later in the day where he will give details of his discussion with President Bush and other US leaders during his two-day stay here. The Bush-Mukherjee encounter which lasted for about half-an-hour yesterday was in a formal setting, marking a sharp departure from the past practice when the President used to drop-by during the Indian minister's meeting with his National Security Advisor at the White House.

Immediately after the Bush-Mukherjee meeting, the White House website flashed a photograph of the two leaders in discussions with each other with a caption: ''President George W Bush welcomes India's Minister of External Affairs Pranab Kumar Mukherjee to a meeting in the Oval Office Monday, March 24, 2008, at the White House.'' Before the meeting, White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino, in reply to a question at a daily press briefing, said, ''President Bush is excited to meet with the External Affairs Minister of India.

There's lots of different things to talk about. We have a broad and deep relationship with India on a variety of issues, including the civil nuclear agreement that you mentioned. And I'm sure they'll talk about other things as well.'' Earlier in the day, Mr Mukherjee separately met Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen J Hadley. He had another round of talk with Rice at the dinner last night where the main subject of discussion was the stalled nuclear deal.

He is understood to have explained the difficulties encountered by the deal because of the opposition by his government' Left allies whose support is vital for its survival.

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 April 2005.


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