Time running out for India nuclear deal-US official

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NEW YORK, Oct 24 (Reuters) Time is running out for a landmark nuclear deal between India and the United States that has been stalled by opposition from four leftist parties in India, a top US State Department official said.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said it was an internal matter for the Indian government to decide on whether to go ahead with the deal, which would let the country import US nuclear fuel despite having tested nuclear weapons in the past.

''We don't want to interfere in those decisions but we're certainly saying this is a time for reflection, and we hope eventually a time for action to push it forward,'' Burns told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York yesterday.

''We don't have an unlimited amount of time,'' Burns said, noting that the United States was approaching an election year and it was hard to pass legislation at such times.

''We'd like to get this agreement to the United States Congress by the end of the year,'' he said.

The Indian government is in talks with the four leftist parties who oppose the deal because they do not want to come under US influence.

When a questioner asked what would happen if, as it ''seems quite likely,'' the Indian government could not deliver, Burns said, ''I'm not as pessimistic.'' ''This agreement is important for the United States and India, it's important for the global community which has been very largely supportive of it,'' Burns said.

''There are enormous benefits to be gained, economic, environmental and strategic, should it go forth, and I think consequently there will be damage if it doesn't.'' CENTER PIECE Burns said the nuclear deal was the ''symbolic center piece'' of an increasingly important strategic relationship between the United States and India. ''We're at the 24-mile mark,'' he said, likening progress in sealing the deal to a marathon -- a distance of 26 miles.

Burns said the private sector had already made huge progress in links with India, particularly in the technology sector, and it was time for the public sector to follow suit.

He said as a democratic power in south Asia, India could play a key role as a US ally in the region and that the two countries could cooperate militarily in training and even deploying, for example in responding to natural disasters such as the devastating tsunami in 2004.

''There are great opportunities for American business as India retools and modernizes its military,'' Burns said, adding that he hoped to see growing U.S. defense sales to India.

He said India's role in the world was changing in the post-Cold War era and it was moving away from its historic non-aligned stance. Comparing it to China, Burns said India was regarded by other developing countries as a ''virtuous power,'' which he said would allow it to wield more global influence.

Asked about the possibility of India taking a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, as it is lobbying for, Burns said Washington backed Japan's bid for permanent membership and supported the expansion of the council by four or five seats.

''It's a matter of time before we see India at the center of these global institutions,'' he said.

REUTERS YA KP0857

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