Indo-US N-deal now or never: US ambassador

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New Delhi, Feb 9: Stepping up pressure on New Delhi to speed up with the civilian nuclear deal, US Ambassador to India David Mulford has warned that such an agreement was unlikely to be revived and offered again by the next US administration.

''If this is not processed in the present Congress, it is unlikely that this deal will be offered again to India. It certainly would not be reviewed and offered by any administration, Democratic or Republican, before 2010, which is after the life of this administration in India,'' Mr Mulford said in an interview. Echoing External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's observation that the deal is ''India's passport to the world,'' the Ambassador said that even if the deal were to be reviewed, it would have to go through the Committee process.

He cautioned that non-proliferation groups would insist on changes in terms or additional conditions, this was the time to conclude the deal. Mr Mulford also sought to allay fears that by concluding the deal, India would forfeit the right to nuclear testing.

Pointng out that Americans were puzzled at India not immediately concluding and activating the deal, Mr Mulford said the Bush Administration had changed the country's 1954 Atomic Energy Act to accomodate India-first time such a change had been made.

''I think Americans are puzzled that this agreement was not immediately enbraced and activated by India,'' he said. He also made it clear that there was no undertaking that India would have to make purchases to acquire technology from the US saying ''it is a competitive market.''

Asked whether India's refusal to go ahead with the deal would damage Indo-US relationship, the US envoy said he did not think so but added it would affect ''elements of trust and discretion.'' ''I don't think it will damage that relationship... I think there has to be some concern about elements of trust and discretion at the core of that relationship...,'' Mr Mulford said in the interview with CNN-IBN.

Refuting statements that the US intention behind the deal was to convert India into a subordinate ally in South Asia, Mr Mulford said ''that is completely untrue.'' ''The United States wants to assist India in achieving its global vision of emerging as a major economic power in the world. This was America's motivation in initiating the Indo-US nuclear deal.'' He also denied reports that the US had put pressure on India not to pursue the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project.

''I don't think that's true at all. What we've done is to indicate to members of the government that we have legislation on our books, which is well-known, which is directed towards discouraging development of natural resources in Iran. And this is a legislation which has not been used but it is there and it could come into play,'' he added.

Asked if the 123 Agreement would mean that India would lose its right to carry out further nuclear tests, the Ambassador said ''Not at all. It can make that decision at any time. It's a sovereign state. It is very clear that India is free to do as it wishes with regard to future testing.'' To another question on the fears that the 123 Agreement did not contain sufficiently binding assurances on lifetime supply of fuel, he said the matter of lifetime supplies of fuel was ''a closed issue.'' He also said the 123 agreement ''granted upfront'' India a clear and unequivocal right to reprocess and that India was being treated like any other country in the world and not being discriminated against.

He asserted that an American right of return would not undermine India's strategic reserves and the agreemet would permit India to retain its strategic reserves even if it carries out fresh nuclear tests and America thereafter chooses to enforce its right of return.

He said there was no deadline for the deal to be returned to the US Congress to ensure it was passed during President Bush's time in office.

''I don't think it's sensible in the case of the US Congress to set a deadline.'' Asked about US capacity to secure for India a clean and unconditional clearance from the NSG, the Ambassador said ''I think it is achievable.'' He, however, said the process was not going to be easy.

''I think it is achievable but I think it will take some time and will take some political energy. Our opinion is, very strongly, that the group (the NSG) will go for a relatively simple consensus and a clean solution to the problem and will not attempt to move beyond effectively the provisions that have been so carefully negotiated in the 123 Agreement.''


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