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US-India nuclear deal timing not helpful-Germany

Written by: Staff
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BERLIN, Mar 29 (Reuters) A civil nuclear energy deal struck between the United States and India this month was not helpful given that it came in the midst of talks on curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions, Germany's foreign minister said.

''There is no question that in light of the continuing talks over the Iranian nuclear programme, the timing of the American-Indian agreement was not helpful,'' Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in an interview with German daily Handelsblatt.

Steinmeier warned against condemning the deal itself however, saying such agreements could help bring countries into the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime.

''I am not so naive to think that India will sign the treaty in the next couple of years. But the fact that the country is putting a bigger part of its civilian nuclear plants under international control is definitely a step forward,'' he said.

India's neighbour Pakistan, and Israel, both of which are known to possess nuclear weapons, also remain outside the NPT.

A copy of the interview was provided to Reuters ahead of publication on Thursday.

The landmark March 2 deal between Washington and New Delhi would enable India, which has long been treated as a nuclear pariah, to receive American atomic technology and fuel, even though it has not signed the NPT pact and has atomic bombs.

The deal came just as the Europeans, the United States and other leading countries were stepping up efforts to limit the nuclear activities of Iran, which is an NPT signatory, to ensure it does not develop nuclear weapons.

On Thursday, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, will meet in Berlin to discuss the Iranian nuclear programme, which Tehran says is purely for peaceful civilian energy purposes.

Steinmeier also urged Washington and Tehran to discuss the nuclear issue when they hold tentatively planned talks on Iraq.

Washington has accused Iran of meddling in the sectarian strife in Iraq, a charge Tehran denies, and sought talks on the issue. But officials in Iran and the United States have said any discussions between them would focus exclusively on Iraq.

''I think that the most urgent international issue before us, namely the nuclear programme, should not be left out of the planned American-Iranian contacts,'' Steinmeier said.

Until now, Washington has refused to talk directly with Iran on its nuclear programme, preferring to let the so-called EU3 -- Britain, France and Germany -- handle negotiations.

But some European diplomats believe direct U.S. involvement may be the only way to break the impasse.

The United States severed diplomatic relations with Iran in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution after a group of militant students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held dozens of embassy employees hostage for 444 days.

REUTERS SK RN0303

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