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India reserves right to conduct future tests: PM

Written by: Staff

New Delhi, Aug 23: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today assured the Lok Sabha that India would keep its right to conduct further nuclear tests and if there was any shifting of goal posts under the July 18, 2005 Indo-US nuclear deal, New Delhi would draw ''appropriate conclusions.'' If India's national security considerations warranted a nuclear test, ''we will of course have the sovereign right to protect our national interest,'' Dr Singh said in his 75-minute reply to a debate under Rule 193.

Addressing each and every concern expressed by members, Dr Singh said though the nuclear deal did not specify that India would not have any bilateral comprehensive test ban treaty with the US, this had been ''unambiguously made it clear to the US.'' The nuclear safeguards with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would be India-specific and ''there is no question of allowing American inspectors to roam around our nuclear facilities,'' he said.

Stating that he sincerely hoped that ''such a stage will not come'' which would warrant India to ''draw appropriate conclusions,'' the Prime Minister said US President George Bush had assured him that it was not the Washington's intention to shift goal posts.

Asked whether India would have the freedom to re-categorise a civilian nuclear facility as a military facility, he said he was not an expert, but admitted that ''there is a question mark'' on this because India did not have the status of a nuclear weapons state and the July 18 joint statement recognised New Delhi only as a state with advanced nuclear technology.

However, India would be free to build new reactors and facilities and that would be ''our prerogative'' which would be sufficient to safeguard its security interests.

India had made it quite clear to the US that New Delhi ''is not willing to agree to any commitment about future tests,'' Dr Singh said. All that India had told the US was that New Delhi would, as stated by the previous NDA government, have a unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests.

Rejecting as ''totally misleading'' an estimate that the separation plan would cost 40 billion dollars, he said there ''are no unacceptable economic burdens.'' India would take ''corrective measures'' in the evvent of fuel supply interruption, he said.

Unlike the NDA government, his government had also not agreed to any moratorium on the production of fissile material. ''We will work out a multilaterally verifiable treaty. Until then, there is no question of accedpting any limit on the production of fissile material.'' Dr Singh also assured the House that the strategic nuclear programme ''is totally out of the purview of all inspections.''

The safeguards agreement with IAEA would be unique as India's position ''is unique. We do not fall fall into the category of non-nuclear weapons state'' and the July 18 agreement had recognised quite clearly that New Delhi had a strategic nuclear programme. Allaying another apprehension on thorium, which was abundantly available in India and the country was in an advanced stage of developing the nuclear cycle using this fuel, he said ''thorium research will not be comprimised.'' Asked about an American diplomat's statement to the contrary, he said he was not in a position to comment on this as the diplomat had not confided in him.

However, he assured the House that if the two countries stuck to the July 18 statement, ''we have got a very good deal'' which the previous government had failed to clinch as it was unable to negotiate.

Going further on thorium, he said India would continue to pursue research in thorium development. ''I do not know where this idea came from...As far as I know there is nothing in this deal that will prevent us from going ahead with research'' in this field.

Referring to another fear, Dr Singh said the proto-type fast breeder reactor programme will be totally kept out of the purview of surveillance of any agency.'' So long as such reactors remained categorised as military facilities, ''nothing will be done to impinge upon the autonomy.'' Pointing out that India's relations with China, Japan, Russia, the European Union and ASEAN had improved since the UPA came to power, he said the country's independent foreign policy would be ''subservient only to our national interest'' and this would be the sole guidance to his government in pursuing the foreign policy.

India was committed to strengthening its relations with Iran as the two countries had civilisational ties for several centuries.

New Delhi would pursue the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline and work to make it a reality.

On the controversy relating to Iran's nuclear ambitions, he said that of late, there has been a positive realisation that coercive methods were not desirable and the problem could be resolved only through dialogue. While Tehran had all the privileges of a signatory country to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), it also had to honour the obligations that went with it.

Elaborating further on India's strategic nuclear programme, Dr Singh asserted the country would not give up this until total disarmament was achieved.

He said the July 18 agreement was signed as India wanted to keep its energy options wider for achieving an eight to ten per cent economic growth and take its rightful place in the global economic order. Economic strength alone would decide the power of nations in future, he said.

While the country had limited coal and oil reserves, its hydel potential could not be exploited fully due to security and inhospitable conditions prevailing in the areas where it could be developed, Dr Singh said.


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