Nuke deal can be signed with any duly constituted govt: US

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New Delhi, Mar 13 (UNI) US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher has virtually disagreed with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's views on the Indo-US nuclear deal, stating his country would sign the deal with any ''duly constituted government, whatever its political status.'' Mr Mukherjee had, a few days ago, said a ''minority government cannot, need not and should not sign a major agreement'' like the nuclear deal.

''Well, that's a different thing. That's a political judgement that the Foreign Minister in his political role is going to make.

That's not a matter of precedent,'' Mr Boucher told the weekly ''Outlook'' in an interview.

Asked whether a deal signed by a minority government would be acceptable to the Bush administration, Mr Boucher said ''as long as it is a duly constituted government of the country, we can sign a deal with it.'' He said his government would not make a distinction even between a minority government and a caretaker government, the Outlook said in a press statement today.

To a question whether Indian officials discussed the possibility of signing a deal with a minority government versus a caretaker government, he said, ''I don't remember it actually coming up at all during my meetings with Indian officials.'' The US government was not trying to set deadlines but only wanted to ''make people aware of our timelines...The timeline that we got from the (US) Congress is that it has to get to Congress so that that it can act on it by July. That means it has to get to Congress in June.'' Asked what would happen to the deal if it was concluded by the end of the Bush Administration, he said, ''I don't know. I don't think any of us really want to throw it into that unknown limbo.

Certainly, I don't think anybody will throw away everything that we have done, but they might also try to take a different approach to finishing it. Whether that would work or not work, we just don't know.'' UNI SN VD RS1853

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