The Ambassador on May 8 again urged BJP leader L.K. Advani in a private meeting to exhibit statesmanship and either back the nuclear deal or withdraw opposition to it.

154231, 5/16/2008 11:16, 08NEWDELHI1353, Embassy New Delhi,CONFIDENTIAL,, "VZCZCXRO6095

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TAGS: PREL, PGOV, KDEM, SOCI, IN

SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR MEETS L.K. ADVANI TO URGE BJP TO BACK NUKE DEAL

Classified By: Ambassador David Mulford for Reasons 1.4 (B, D)

NO VISIT TO USA FOR NOW

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1. (C) The Ambassador on May 8 again urged BJP leader L.K. Advani in a private meeting to exhibit statesmanship and either back the nuclear deal or withdraw opposition to it. Advani did not alter his argument, but I sensed that he is much less comfortable than he was a month ago. Advani informed the Ambassador that he probably will not make a visit to Washington in the foreseeable future and the Embassy should not pursue any meetings that he or his staff had previously requested. Advani said he had originally mooted the idea of a visit in June/July when it appeared that Indian national elections would be this fall. Now that the Indian elections will probably be held next year, closer to their scheduled May 2009 deadline, he has backed off an immediate visit.

ADVANI PLEASED WITH THE MEETING

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2. (C) Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told the Ambassador May 14 that Advani had related that he was grateful for Ambassador Mulford's outreach, and he told Menon, ""I'm glad he came."" Menon speculated that the Ambassador's call on Advani boosts Advani's standing in the BJP. Regarding the chances of the nuclear initiative, Menon observed that the Samajwadi Party's new-found flexibility in its position could help the government move the initiative forward. However, Menon worried, ""my fear is that the political parties will think the nuclear deal is a ball that they can play with indefinitely.""

SHIFTING SANDS?

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3. (C) The timing of the Advani meeting was deliberate. One circumstance under which we see Advani visiting Washington is if the BJP changes or softens its position on the civil nuclear initiative, assuring a positive reception for Advani among Indian Americans. In addition to recent pro-deal statements by former President Kalam and former NSA Brajesh Mishra, both of whom have longtime close association with the BJP, we have begun to hear increasing chatter here about how the BJP is missing a golden opportunity to drop its opposition to the deal, take full credit for authoring rapprochement with the U.S., provoke a Congress-Left rift, and put Sonia Gandhi on the spot. Supporters within the BJP are increasingly uncomfortable with being perceived as anti-American, and visiting Indian American groups are making it plain that the BJP's stance is not appreciated.

A POSSIBLE SCRIPT FOR A REVERSAL

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4. (C) If the party were to decide to end its opposition, it could potentially do so by saying:

-- The BJP continues to have some concerns about the agreement, but believes that it is overall a good deal and the best that is possible in the current environment;

-- When the BJP comes to power, it may enact its own ""Hyde Act"" to maintain reciprocity;

-- Meanwhile, the BJP assesses that it is now in the larger national interest for India to move forward with this deal because the damage from backing out would be unacceptable;

-- Having indicated that the BJP would not stand in the way of the completion of the deal, it would be up to the Congress Party now to move it forward so India can take its rightful place on the international stage.

PUTS THE FOCUS ON SONIA

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5. (C) If this was to be the BJP's new posture, the party could cast itself as a party of principle that believes in the national interest over petty partisan bickering that has stalled the agreement. It would also put Sonia Gandhi in a box; if she goes ahead with the deal, her communist allies would be livid, might pull out of the coalition and possibly not have anything to do with the Congress Party post-election. If she does not go ahead with the deal, she will be seen as having let India down when it faced a crucial choice in order to stay in power for just a few more months. If Sonia goes ahead with the deal, she can call the Communists' bluff secure in the NEW DELHI 00001353 002 OF 002 knowledge the BJP is pro-deal.

KALAM ALSO TRYING

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6. (C) After meeting Advani, Ambassador paid a call on former President Kalam May 14 to thank him for his public support for the nuclear initiative. Kalam told the Ambassador that he, too, had met with Advani to seek a shift in the BJP leader's thinking. Kalam also conveyed his personal appreciation to the USG for its kindness in extending every possible courtesy during his frequent trips to the U.S. since his term ended. Embassy will keep reaching out to BJP opinion shapers to see if we can provoke a shift in the party that could bring the civil nuclear issue to a head by the end of May.

MULFORD