The United States has brushed aside attempts to compare North Korea's nuclear test with India's 1998 tests by pointing out that New Delhi has been "a responsible actor" on non-proliferation matters, even without being a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The Bush administration's strong defence of India is being viewed as a re-assertion of the line it would employ to take on the non-proliferation lobby's expected moves to step up opposition to the passage of the Indo-US nuclear deal in the US Congress.
India is "the world's largest multi-ethnic democracy" and the deal that the US has signed with it will benefit not only the two countries but the global non-proliferation regime as well, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Tuesday.
"India has been a responsible actor in that regard. We have certainly made that judgment," he added.
Non-proliferation hawks have over the past year been asserting that the Indo-US deal would embolden the likes of North Korea and Iran. Some Congressional aides believe that this lobby would come up with its "I told you so" line, now that Pyongyang has gone ahead with the test.
One of the leading lights of this lobby, Darryl Kymball, did comment in that vein on Tuesday. "The North Korean situation shows that when the international community, and particularly the United States, forgives and forgets states that have violated non-proliferation standards, it gives greater licence to future proliferators to bend or break the rules," said Kymball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.
McCormack, however, stressed that the North Korean test cannot be equated either with India's or with those of Pakistan for that matter. The three cases are quite different in terms of historical facts and the type of governments each has.
As opposed to the "opaque" regime in North Korea, India's is the world's largest multi-ethnic democracy and Pakistan is a US ally that is "transitioning to its own form of democracy", the spokesman commented. "Each has different historical pathways and I would note that North Korea was in fact a treaty signatory to the non-proliferation regime and it broke its commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty," he said.
Asked if it would have been okay for North Korea to conduct a nuclear test if it were a democracy, McCormack said: "No, I'm just trying to draw some parallels here and I'm just trying to point out how all the cases were different."