Friday, June 23, 2006

India sidesteps linking US nuclear deal to Iran

India said on Friday a landmark nuclear deal with the United States should be based on the original commitments made by the two sides, sidestepping new moves to link the pact to its stand on Iran's atomic program.

New Delhi's comments came after a leading U.S. lawmaker warned this week the civilian nuclear energy cooperation deal could be jeopardized if India sided with non-aligned states in backing Iran's atomic ambitions.

Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos of California said the controversial deal was on track to be voted on by the Congress next month, but approval would be at risk if leaders in New Delhi did not "act responsibly." READ MORE

A draft of the bill prepared for action next week by a key House of Representatives committee also calls for New Delhi's support for Washington's efforts to stop Tehran acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

"There have been a number of U.S. senators and congressmen who have expressed different views concerning the Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement," an Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman said in response to questions about Lantos' remarks.

"We have been negotiating the nuclear deal with the U.S. administration on the premise that it is an agreement about civil nuclear energy cooperation on the basis of mutual benefit."

The deal should be based on commitments made by the two countries when it was first agreed in principle last year and it was the responsibility of the U.S. administration to get the legislation approved by Congress, he added.

India's traditional ties with Iran have haunted the controversial pact since President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to it last July.

Although New Delhi has since backed Washington at the International Atomic Energy Agency against Tehran's atomic program, its decision to oppose its old friend and a major source of its soaring energy needs drew strong criticism at home.

As a result, India has been cagey of making any clear commitments against Iran.

The nuclear deal aims to reverse a three-decade ban on sales of U.S. atomic fuel and reactors to India as ties between the two countries, once on opposite sides of the Cold War, warm considerably.

But members of the U.S. congress and non-proliferation experts have criticized it, saying it encourages weapons proliferation as India has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.