Sonia talks to UPA allies on nuke deal ahead of June 25 meet

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New Delhi, June 23 (UNI) Congress President and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi today held a series of meetings with leaders of UPA allies in a bid to evolve a consensus on the Indo-US nuclear deal, ahead of Wednesday's UPA-Left panel meet on the issue.

Among those who called on Ms Gandhi were Mr Ramvilas Paswan (LJP), Mr Lalu Prasad (RJD) and Mr Sharad Pawar (NCP), who is apparently playing mediator between the ruling coalition and the Left, which has threatened to pull the plug on the Manmohan Singh government if it went ahead with the deal.

Party sources said the efforts were aimed at getting the UPA allies on board on the deal before putting pressure on the Left to soften its intransigent attitude.

Ms Gandhi's hectic parleys come a day after CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat and CPI's National Secretary D Raja flew down to the south to garner the support of DMK supremo and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi for their stand against the deal.

After the meet, Mr Karunanidhi had issued a statement, calling for avoiding steps that would strengthen fundamentalist forces.

While the Congress has denied reports that Dr Singh had threatened to quit on the issue, there is no denying the fact that the Prime Minister would like to carry some positive message to US President George Bush at their meeting on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Japan in the first week of next month.

Of course, the Congress is also keen on going ahead with the nuclear agreement, but wants the Prime Minister to put greater focus on measures to check inflation which has become a major headache for the party ahead of the assembly elections in several states later this year and the Lok Sabha polls early next year.

The stalemate on the deal had resulted in the delay of External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's departure for Australia and the cancellation of Defence Minister A K Antony's visit to Japan. While Mr Mukherjee is the chairman of the Left-UPA panel, Mr Antony has been pressed into the reconciliatory efforts by Ms Gandhi.

Meanwhile, AICC spokesman Shakeel Ahmed told reporters today that it would not be proper for the Congress to go to the June 25 talks assuming that the Left would continue to be critical of the agreement.

The Congress would make all efforts to take along all its allies in the UPA and the Left on the issue, he said.

UNI SN RR RN1910

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