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India at an impasse over civilian nuclear deal

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US State Department officials have said that India's Parliament will need to ratify New Delhi's commitment to the agreement in June in order for the US Congress to make the pact into law before Bush leaves office.

"The government cameto the brink today and stepped back," says Mahesh Rangarajan, a political analyst in New Delhi. "It has bought itself time. I don't think any of these guys – the government or the Communists – are ready for an election."

The government is anxious to avoid early elections right now because inflation is running at a 13-year high.

Even though India's next elections must be held by May 2009, and early emergency polls would be unlikely to take place before November at the earliest, the government wants time to bring food prices under control. The price of rice is of far greater interest than multilateral agreements to Indians, half of whom live on less than $2 a day.

Some analysts argue that time for the nuclear deal may have already run out.

Even before Congress approves the deal, it needs clearances by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Last month, US Sen. Joseph Biden, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the deal was unlikely to be approved during Bush's term.

"There is no time left now," says Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. "If the prime minister wants to get the deal completed he has no time left."

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