updated 7/6/2008 12:40:18 AM ET 2008-07-06T04:40:18

A key regional party in India said Saturday that it supports a nuclear deal with the United States, hinting that the party could provide the crucial numbers needed to push the deal through India's Parliament.

The socialist Samajwadi Party's senior leader, Amar Singh, told reporters in New Delhi that the agreement is in "the interest of the nation."

The last several days have seen a frenzy of political activity as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has tried to cobble together political support for the nuclear deal ahead of his meeting with  President Bush on the sidelines of a Group of Eight summit in Japan that starts Monday.

The deal has been hailed as the cornerstone of a new strategic relationship between the U.S. and India, but India's main communist party leaders say it would undermine India's weapons program and give Washington too much influence over its foreign policy.

The communist parties, which have provided crucial backing to Singh's Congress party-led coalition government, have threatened to withdraw support in Parliament if the government goes ahead with the deal.

Without their support, the government could topple and face early elections later this year.

However, with U.S. elections due in November, time is running short to ratify the agreement before a new U.S. administration comes to power.

Blistering exchanges
The Samajwadi Party and Singh's Congress have exchanged angry barbs in the past but have been holding meetings in New Delhi over the last few days because the socialist party's backing could offset the potential loss of communist allies.

The Samajwadi Party leader did not say outright Saturday that its 39 legislators would throw their weight behind the Congress party in Parliament.

Amar Singh said there was no formal agreement with the Congress party so far and added that his party's support was not needed yet because the communists "have not made any moves but only threatened" to withdraw support.

But he did say that his party was convinced of the value of a civilian nuclear agreement with the U.S.

The government has assured the Samajwadi Party that there is nothing in the agreement with the U.S. that would place a ban on future Indian nuclear tests or affect Indian decision-making in foreign policy.

If ratified, the agreement with Washington would reverse three decades of U.S. policy by allowing the sale of atomic fuel and technology to India, which has not signed international nonproliferation accords but has tested nuclear weapons. India, in exchange, would open its civilian reactors to international inspections.

For India to move ahead with the deal, it needs to sign a separate deal with the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency before the U.S. Congress can approve the pact.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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