Govt fights to meet N-deadline

Pranab Aims To Take IAEA Safeguards Pact To US The ides of March may be India's internal deadline for completing the IAEA safeguards agreement on its civilian nuclear facilities. This has reportedly been decided by the government, after the MEA-DAE team returned from Vienna on Sunday with what appears to be the final draft of the agreement. The government's legal brains will now go through the agreement to see if India can "live with' it. This exercise, sources said, should be completed by the middle of this month. The completed Indian safeguards agreement is expected to dovetail into foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee's maiden visit (as foreign minister) to Washington on March 23-25, where he is expected to present this to his counterpart Condoleezza Rice. Politically, sources said, it would make sense for Mukherjee to go to Washington with a concrete document in hand, rather than open himself up to a host of diplomatic harangue. Sources indicated that the crucial UPA-Left meeting will probably be scheduled after his return and after the CPM's party congress scheduled for March 29. This remains the imponderable because it's not yet clear whether the government will take the agreement beyond the Left's veto