Indian PM Defends Nuclear Deal with US, Rejects Test Moratorium

By Deepak Mahaan | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - India will not accept a moratorium on nuclear tests nor sign the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapons state, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said here.

Replying to a day-long parliamentary debate on the Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear cooperation deal, Singh stressed that India's nuclear interests and sovereignty would not be compromised by the proposed agreement, as charged by opposition parties.

Earlier, eight of India's top nuclear scientists expressed fears that changes to the deal proposed by U.S. lawmakers could hurt India's national security and defense requirements.

In an open letter to lawmakers, the scientists worried that the agreement would infringe upon India's "independence for carrying out indigenous research and development in nuclear science and technology."

This is the first time prominent nuclear scientists here made a public, joint stand against the deal and, throughout his speech, Singh appeared focused on addressing their concerns.

Supporters of the agreement are concerned that India's rejection of a moratorium on nuclear testing and other requirements may affect passage of the enabling legislation through the U.S. Senate.

Under the July 2005 deal, the U.S. will supply India with fuel and technology for its nuclear energy sector, in return for Indian steps to separate its civilian and military nuclear programs and place its civilian nuclear facilities under international safeguards.

The House of Representatives last month approved the agreement, but put in place some curbs including a requirement of annual certification that nuclear fuel and technology is used for purely peaceful purposes. Lawmakers also threatened to revoke the deal if India conducted a nuclear test.

The pact will only come into effect once it is ratified jointly by the two houses after negotiations have been completed on all technical details.

A former External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, has accused U.S. lawmakers of modifying the agreement by inserting new clauses so as "to cap India's nuclear weapons program."

In a bid to allay fears of the opposition -- both leftists and Hindu nationalists oppose the deal -- Singh said India would not accept any dilution of the agreement that might harm India's interests.

India was against the certification requirement, he said.

At the same time, he argued that the nuclear deal was crucial for India's acceptance into the global nuclear community, and critical if India was to meet its growing energy needs.

He said President Bush had personally assured him at the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg that Washington was "not shifting any goalposts."

Backers of the pact say it is significant that it gives India access to U.S. fuel and equipment without India having to sign the NPT.

Eminent space scientist Kasturi Rangan argued that Indo-U.S. nuclear cooperation would accelerate scientific development in India.

Indian political commentator Fal Nariman said the agreement acknowledges India as a nuclear weapons state, and at the same time opens the door to full civil nuclear cooperation with international partners.

India was thus placed in a unique, preferred position despite not having signed the NPT.

The deal would contribute significantly to India's energy security by allowing a much more rapid expansion of its nuclear energy program than was currently possible owing to restrictions on nuclear technology transfer, Nariman said.

Nuclear cooperation with Delhi was severed after India conducted its first nuclear tests in the 1970s.

Placid Rodriguez, president of the Indian Nuclear Society and former director of the Indira Gandhi Center for Atomic Research, said the deal would be mutually beneficial.

Just as India is looking for better nuclear options, the U.S., too, is banking on India for a large number of technicians and scientists for its nuclear renaissance, he said.

Although the agreement with U.S. promises to end India's nuclear isolation, its success will largely depend on the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which regulates global atomic and nuclear fuel trade. The NSG would need to approve the deal before India can actually import nuclear fuels for its reactors.

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