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PM pitches right, sells nuclear deal

WITH AN impassioned defence of the Indo-US nuclear deal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday largely swung the Rajya Sabha in his favour on the issue that had, at one stage, threatened a combined Left-BJP campaign against the government.

india Updated: Aug 18, 2006 01:28 IST

Allays fears raised by Left, BJP & scientists

WITH AN impassioned defence of the Indo-US nuclear deal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday largely swung the Rajya Sabha in his favour on the issue that had, at one stage, threatened a combined Left-BJP campaign against the government.

By the time he was through, the PM had secured the CPM's Sitaram Yechury's open approval and the BJP's Yashwant Sinha's grudging acceptance that he was 60 per cent satisfied with Singh's response, though some key questions he had raised remained unanswered.

However, Sinha's qualified support lost meaning with top scientists -- who had earlier raised doubts about the deal -- also welcoming the PM's assurances.

On his feet for over an hour, the PM began his speech by recalling that he was similarly accused of compromising the national interest while initiating economic reforms as finance minister in the early 1990s on being handed over a bankrupt economy by Sinha, who initiated the nuclear debate on behalf of the BJP.

"Today the nation stands tall, strong and fast-growing because of the decisions then taken," he said. "So I speak with some experience, though I may be a novice in comparison with the skills of Jaswant Singh, Sinha and Arun Shourie (of the BJP). I'll discharge my duties for the country to the last ounce of my blood."

The PM said he was not in a position to predict with certainty the final form the US legislation would take, but he was hopeful that it would lead to "lifting all restrictions" that have been there for decades on India's nuclear programme and long-term cooperation.

He said the path identified by the government was the right path. "I'm aware of the risks involved. But for the sake of India, I am willing to take those risks," he said, quoting from Machiavelli's Prince.

Winding up the day-long discussion in the Rajya Sabha, Singh repeatedly assured the House that there was "no ambiguity" in the government's position that it would not accept conditionalities and parameters beyond the July 18, 2005, joint statement and the March 2, 2006, separation plan.

"We'll not accept any condition that goes beyond the parameters of July 18, 2005, joint statement and the March 2, 2006, separation plan agreed to between India and the US," he said. "The proposed US legislation on nuclear cooperation with India will not be allowed to become an instrument to compromise India's sovereignty."

Asserting that India would make its "own assessment" of its nuclear weapon programme, Singh said, "If something is enforced on us in separation (plans of nuclear facilities) or other areas, the government will draw the necessary conclusion consistent with India's national interests." In this "uncertain and unpredictable world", in which nuclear power provided security, the autonomy of India's nuclear programme was the "cardinal principal of our nuclear policy", he said. "If the US legislation or the Nuclear Suppliers Group imposes extraneous conditions, the government will draw the necessary conclusion consistent with my commitments to Parliament and the people," he said, stopping short of saying the government could pull out of the deal.

The PM said: "We've made it clear to the US that India's strategic programme is totally outside the purview of the July 18 statement."

"There is no question of American inspectors roaming around our nuclear facilities," he said referring to concerns raised about the India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Addressing another key concern, he said there was no question of India joining the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state.

"India will not go beyond the unilateral voluntary moratorium (on nuclear testing)" as specified in the July 18 statement, the PM said.