Mr Paulson was speaking in Calcutta, a stronghold of India’s communists, who oppose the deal and have threatened to topple the government if it goes ahead with it.
“This is a very important deal,” Mr Paulson told reporters after a conference on bringing banking services to India’s impoverished masses. “We want the nuclear deal to move as quickly as possible.”
The deal would reverse three decades of American anti-proliferation policy by allowing the US 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.
Last week, the Indian government said it would wait to finalise the agreement for at least a month after inconclusive talks with its communist political allies.
Mr Paulson acknowledged that the Indian government would have to first solve its internal disputes.
“You all have to work through your own internal political decision. That’s up to India,” said Mr Paulson, who also met with West Bengal state’s communist chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya yesterday.
Mr Paulson did not address the media after that meeting, leaving the building following a scuffle among journalists jockeying for position near him.
Mr Paulson is visiting India from Saturday to Wednesday, with stops in Calcutta, Mumbai and New Delhi. He has said he will encourage India to step up economic reforms and search for a solution to long-stalled global trade talks.
The Indian government has not taken the next steps in closing the civilian nuclear energy 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 the US Congress, say providing US 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.
US President George W Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan 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 also have touted its benefits for India’s booming but energy-hungry economy, which would gain access to much-needed atomic fuel and technologies.