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Key states hold judgment on US-India nuclear deal

Written by: Staff

Washington, Mar 28: Most nuclear-supplier nations are waiting to see what the U.S. Congress does with the US-India civil nuclear energy deal before taking a position on the controversial agreement, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said.

US officials last week briefed the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on the India deal, which requires changes in US law and international regulations to take effect. Only Britain, France, Russia and Australia were strongly supportive, Mr Burns said yesterday. The NSG sets rules for nuclear transfers.

''The other countries are clearly in the middle categories, waiting to see more of the details (and) wanting to see action by the US Congress'' before taking a position, he told the Council on Foreign Relations thinktank.

Under the pact, India would receive US nuclear technology, including reactors and nuclear fuel, in return for separating its military and civil facilities and opening the civilian plants to international inspections.

India has been barred from acquiring foreign nuclear technology for three decades because it refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and developed nuclear weapons.

But the undersecretary said India's commitments under the US agreement, including a promise not to test nuclear weapons, brings Washington's new strategic partner more directly into the non-proliferation system and merits its access to sensitive technology.

The Bush administration recently introduced legislation in Congress to implement the deal but many lawmakers have been skeptical, questioning whether it gives India too much and weakens controls on the spread of nuclear technology.

Mr Burns said ''we hope within a month or two, Congress will agree with the administration that we ought to amend US law'' so the deal can proceed. He has warned Congress against putting conditions on the legislation, saying this would force new negotiations with New Delhi and torpedo the deal.

But the administration welcomes suggestions from Congress that do not require renegotiation with India and some senators have made ''very attractive'' proposals of this sort, he said, without elaborating.

The administration had been looking to ask the NSG to approve the deal at its May meeting. he acknowledged that target will not be met because the US Congress is not expected to act by that time.

Instead, the administration may seek to have the NSG schedule a special meeting a month or two later, he said.

Some critics say the United States is creating a double standard by allowing India to acquire nuclear technology without joining the NPT.

But Mr Burns said, ''If that's a double standard, we welcome that double standard. ... We're happy to treat a friendly country differently than we treat Iran or North Korea.'' Burns is due to brief the Senate Foreign Relations Committee tomorrow and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will testify before Congress next week.

Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran is due in Washington tomorrow for talks on the nuclear deal and other issues.


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