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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived here yesterday for a G8 summit where he is expected to tell US President George W. Bush he will move ahead on a stalled bilateral nuclear energy deal.

The Indian premier, who is among 23 leaders meeting in Japan for a Group of Eight summit, is visiting after US pressure to advance the atomic energy pact before Bush ends his US presidency.

Singh and Bush in 2005 unveiled an agreement to share civilian nuclear technology -- a deal that when finalised would see India entering the fold of global nuclear commerce after being shut out for decades.

But the Indian ruling coalition's leftist allies have been trying to derail the deal, vowing to bring down the government if the pact is implemented.

A four-member bloc of communist parties, who have 59 seats in the 545-member parliament, insist the deal would bind India too closely to the United States, and have threatened repeatedly to force early elections if it moves forward.

In a pre-departure statement, Singh confirmed his meeting with Bush but made no direct reference to the controversial issue.

"I will present India's perspective on a wide range of global issues, including the state of the world economy, development, trade, transfer of technology, energy security and food security," he said.

"I will, in particular, highlight the impact of the sharp rise in fuel prices on the global economy and the need for joint action by both (oil) producing and consuming nations."

After months of stalemate, frantic politicking last week saw Singh's ruling Congress party successfully woo its onetime arch-rival Samajwadi Party (SP), which holds 39 seats, into backing the deal.

Such bargaining appears to have helped Singh's Congress party to outmanoeuvre the left, and to stave off elections ahead of the scheduled May 2009 date.

Parties from the left are insisting the government tell them on Monday whether it plans to head to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to finalise a safeguards agreement -- the next step in the process.

But with its new partners on board, the Congress has scoffed at the ultimatum.

The United States meanwhile has been pressing India to move on the deal before the end of Bush's tenure, warning that the pact may not survive in its current form under the next administration.

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