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Burns urges Congress to ratify landmark nuclear deal

Written by: Staff

Washington, Mar 23: Emphasising that India is now a ''singularly important'' US foreign policy priority, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns urged the US Congress to ratify the landmark Indo-US civil nuclear deal in the interest of global security and non-proliferation.

''India can be trusted, to keep up its commitments,'' Mr Burns said.

Pointing to the flourishing economic and political ties between the two nations, he said ''The relationship between India and the United States is singularly important for our society and for the future of American foreign policy. We think, frankly, that one of the most important strategic initiatives of the United States in the last few years has been the opening to India".

Addressing a press conference at the Foreign Press Center here on March 22, Mr Burns said they are convinced this deal is positive for United States national security interest because it will help cement strategic partnership with India, which is very important for global interests.

''Secondly, it will provide a net gain for our hope to strengthen the proliferation regime because it will bring into the proliferation system for the first time in 30 years, one of the largest countries in the world and a country that hopes to have one of the largest civil, peaceful nuclear power industries in the future and that's India,'' he said.

Critics of the deal, including former Senator Sam Nunn, Democrat from Georgia, are sceptical of the agreement reached earlier this month by Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. To become effective, the deal has to be approved by the Congress to exempt India from US laws that restrict trade with countries, such as India, that have not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

In a newspaper interview yesterday Nunn, said the agreement would fuel a regional arms race with China and Pakistan and make it more difficult for the United States to win international support for sanctions against such countries as Iran and North Korea.

Burns said ''We take his views very seriously.'' He, however, allayed fears that it would weaken international pressure on Iran and North Korea.

''We are far better off working with the Indians and having the IAEA place safeguards on India's nuclear-- civil nuclear program than we are if India is isolated and fully sanctioned. And so we're seeking relief from the US law that currently prohibits American private investment and trade with India's civil nuclear sector.''

''We're asking Congress to provide an India-only -- and India-specific waiver to the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 and we're looking forward to the briefings next week of members, the formal briefings and of the hearings that will follow thereafter (to win Congressional approval),'' he said.

Burns remarks came as the Bush administration sent two of its senior officials to Vienna to negotiate the deal with the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) of 35 member states, which has control over trade in potential nuclear weapons materials.

He said US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Richard Boucher and Assistant Secretary of State for International, Security and Nonproliferation Stephen Rademaker, were due to brief members of the group tomorrow about Washington's plan to provide key US nuclear technology to India.

He also expressed the hope that the outcome of the briefings to the group, would be a positive development. ''India is accepting international verification,'' he said. ''India is accepting international inspection. Who can argue with that?'' Burns remarked.

''My very strong sense is that what we're going to hear tomorrow is a lot of countries are going to wait and see if the United States government is able to convince the US Congress to pass the necessary legislation to allow this deal to go forward,'' he said.


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