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US to muster support for Indo-US nuke deal: Burns

Written by: Staff

Washington, Mar 28: Allaying doubts over support for the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal in the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a top Bush administration official expressed confidence that the US would be able to muster enough support for the landmark agreement.

Once the Congress approves the pending legislation on the deal, the NSG, which oversees global trade in nuclear technology and equipment, would be able to take a definite stand on the issue, said Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns.

Last week, Washington had sent two of its officials to brief the group in Vienna on the deal, which requires Congressional approval and a change in NSG regulations before it could become effective.

Britain, France, Russia and Australia have so far lent their support while others have taken a ''wait and see'' stand, Mr Burns told the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) a Washington DC-based think tank.

He also defended the deal under which India is to separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities over the next eight years.

In return, it will receive US civilian nuclear expertise, and nuclear fuel, to help it meet its growing energy needs.

Burns said India's commitment has to be taken seriously since for the first time it has agreed to place nearly 65 per cent of its nuclear reactors under international safeguards.

It has a good record as a non-proliferator and has adhered to Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT) guidelines even though it had not signed it.

Regarding the legislation pending before the Congress he 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 disagreed that new conditions would be imposed before Congress approves it. During his briefings with the lawmakers, Mr Burns had made it clear that any new conditions that would require re-negotiation would only jeopardize the deal.

But the administration welcomes suggestions from the Congress, he said adding that he had been given some ''attractive ideas'' that do not require renegotiation with India.

Regarding criticism that the deal has created a double standard, he emphatically 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.''

Replying to a question from an Arms Control official who criticised the deal for allowing India to carry on its weapons programme, Burns said in the real world in which we live, the world of relations among states, is it better for the United States and the rest of the world to keep India at arm's distance, to keep India out of the proliferation regime, to have no international safeguards to speak of on India's civil nuclear industry or is it better for us to bring them in, so that at least we capture three quarters of the Indian civil nuclear power system under the international safeguards?

''And we arrived at the conclusion, about a year ago, that (it was) far better off working with the Indians, because India is a country that is governed by the rule of law. India is a country that has not proliferated its nuclear material, unlike many other countries that are signatories to a nonproliferation regime. And therefore, India is a country that can be trusted and that the rest of the world wants to work with,'' he said.

He also mentioned how the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed El Baradei, who is a defender and protector of the International Nonproliferation regime, had publicly made a statement saying that he was fully in favor of the civil nuclear agreement between India and the United States because he thinks it's going to strengthen the nonproliferation regime.

Burns also said that the legislation pending before the Congress, which requires an exemption to India under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, has several co-sponsors both in the Senate and the House.

Several other lawmakers would also lend their support once they hear Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testify before the Senate and the House on ''how the deal is in the interest of the United States and is a net-plus for the nonproliferation regime.''

Rice is scheduled to testify on April 5 and 6 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House International Relations Committee respectively, to clarify lawmakers' concerns over the deal, which was arranged between President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the US President's first ever visit to New Delhi.

Meanwhile India's Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran is arriving here tonight for two days of talks with Nick Burns and also lawmakers in a bid to allay fears in the US Congress on India's commitment to the nonproliferation regime.


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