NEW DELHI – India's government said it would hold off on finalizing a landmark civilian nuclear energy deal with the United States for at least a month after inconclusive talks with its communist political allies, who oppose the accord.
The result of a meeting Monday between the governing Congress party and the communists seemed certain to further fuel doubts about the future of the pact.
The deal would reverse three decades of American anti-proliferation policy by allowing the U.S. to send nuclear fuel and technology to India, which has been cut off from the global atomic trade by its refusal to sign nonproliferation treaties and its testing of nuclear weapons.
Billed as the cornerstone of a new partnership between India and the U.S., the deal has faced growing opposition in India, especially among communist parties that are key to the survival of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government.
Singh said earlier this month he would not risk the stability of his government to push the deal through.
And after Monday's meeting, he appeared no closer to having the support of the communists, who have threatened "serious consequences" if the government pursues the pact.
The two sides formed the committee in September to examine the deal. Each meeting has been followed by word of another meeting, but little else. The next scheduled meeting is Nov. 16.
Singh's government, meanwhile, hasn't taken the next steps in cinching the deal — negotiating separate agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency and Nuclear Suppliers Group, a group of nations that export nuclear material.
The deal faces opposition in America, too. Critics there, including some in Congress, say providing U.S. fuel to India would free up India's limited domestic supplies of nuclear material for use in atomic weapons, which they argue could spark a nuclear arms race in Asia.
President Bush and Singh have sold the deal, first conceived in 2005, as a way to bring India — a nuclear weapons state — into the international atomic mainstream. They've also touted its benefits for India's booming but energy-hungry economy, which would gain access to much-needed atomic fuel and technologies.
Despite the challenges to the deal in India, U.S. officials have remained publicly upbeat about its prospects. But privately they say frustration is growing, and that with America heading into an election year, India needs to press ahead with the next steps in enacting the deal, which must get a final nod from U.S. lawmakers.
More delays, they say, could leave the pact's fate to the next U.S. administration, and there's no certainty that it would get the same backing.