With nuke-debate on mind, PM leaves for Japan

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New Delhi, Jul 7: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday, July 7 left for Japan to meet the leaders of the world's wealthiest nations, including US President George Bush, in the shadow of political heat generated by the debate on the Indo-US civil nuclear deal.

Stating that he will have a bilateral meeting with Mr Bush during his July 7-9 stay in Japan for the G-8 Summit at Toyako, he did not specify whether he would discuss the nuclear deal with him. India is one of the five emerging economies that have been invited as ''Outreach Five'' (O-5) members to participate in the 34th Summit of Group of Eight industrial nations. Besides the United States, G-8 permanent members are Russia, France, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan.

The O-5 also includes China, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico.

In addition, leaders of the major economies like Australia, South Korea and Indonesia have also been invited to the Summit this time to discuss global fuel and food crisis.

While climate change will top the agenda of the April 7-9 Summit, Dr Singh's meeting with Mr Bush on Wednesday at Toyako, the venue of the G-8, will throw some light on the fate of the nuclear deal.

The two leaders have been working since July 18, 2005, when they issued a joint statement in Washington. Both of them are keen to sign the deal before demitting office early next year.

Having sewn up the Samajwadi Party (SP) support on the Indo-US deal, the Prime Minister will discuss the next steps in operationalising the deal with US President George Bush with the objective of ending India's 'nuclear apartheid' and reviving fuel and technology supply for the county's nuclear power plants. For Mr Bush, the 'showpiece' deal is a way of bringing India's unsafeguarded civil nuclear programme under scrutiny of the atomic watchdog, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

India has more or less finalised the safeguards mechanism with IAEA and is awaiting a political go-ahead before signing it, according to Prime Minister's special envoy on the nuclear deal, Shyam Saran.

Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said, ''We will do our best to go ahead with it as soon as we can.'' He said India has been in touch with all member countries of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and would continue with them at the Summit.

Asked if the Prime Minister would talk to Mr Bush on the possibilities of getting support from the NSG at the Summit, Mr Menon said, ''I think the US is committed under the July 18, 2005 Joint Statement to get us an exemption from the NSG and they are committed to helping us to achieve that.'' As nearly all the 16 leaders, who will be present in Japan, are members of the NSG, the Prime Minister is also likely to seek their support in getting the exemption from the 45-member nuclear cartel.

The deal has caused a lot of political churning in the country. The 59-strong bloc of the Left MPs have threatened to withdraw support from the Congress-led UPA government, if it went ahead with signing the safeguards agreement with Vienna-based IAEA.

But, support by the 39-member bloc of the SP MPs have given some leeway to the government to take the next crucial steps at the IAEA and NSG for the deal to go to the US Congress for its approval before Dr Singh and Mr Bush sign to implement the 123 agreement between the two nations.

Dr Singh is expected to ask Mr Bush to help the deal go through the IAEA that will work out India-specific safeguards for its civilian reactors as well as a waiver from the NSG for nuclear commerce with India in fuel and technology.

The Prime Minister is accompanied by National Security Adviser M K Narayanan, Shivshankar Menon and Shyam Saran, who is also the Prime Minister's Special Envoy on Climate Change.

Dr Singh will returns to the capital in the early hours of Thursday.

UNI

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