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US not to review nuke deal with India

The Bush administration maintained a tough stance on the agreement despite resistance by legislators.

india Updated: Mar 30, 2006 02:44 IST

The Bush administration said that it was not prepared to renegotiate a landmark nuclear deal with India despite resistance to the agreement by legislators whose endorsement was mandatory.

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said the administration was open to ideas from the Senate and House of Representatives "as long as they don't require us to go back and break the agreement, reopen negotiations".

Speaking at a forum of the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential US think tank, Burns said "we frankly think it is such a complex deal and we probably won't be able to put it back together again" if it was renegotiated.

Henry Hyde, the Republican head of the House's international relations committee that would scrutinise the civilian nuclear agreement, had said that Congress could give only conditional approval to the deal, clinched on March 2 by US President George W Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The deal gives energy-starved India access to long-denied civilian nuclear technology in return for placing a majority of its nuclear reactors under international inspection.

For it to be effective, the US Congress has to amend the US Atomic Energy Act, which currently prohibits nuclear sales to states not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

India has refused to sign the NPT and developed nuclear weapons on its own.

Hyde had said Congress "may seek conditions" for approval of the deal.

"This is a complex agreement with profound implications for US and global interests. Congress will need to take a close look at its many provisions in order to come to an informed decision," Hyde said.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to be grilled by legislators during a Congressional hearing on the agreement next week.

Burns said Monday the administration was open to ideas by legislators that could "strengthen" the agreement.

"If members of Congress have ideas that would not be deal breakers or require us to renegotiate, and they think and we think those ideas can strengthen the arrangement, we are all ears," he said.

After the forum, Burns told reporters that "there is a difference between ideas or conditions that are meant to strengthen the agreement and ideas or conditions that are meant to essentially have us go back and renegotiate it.

"And I said we are open to the former and not to the latter," he stressed.

Some US lawmakers and experts are worried that the deal, although limited to civilian sales, might indirectly aid India's nuclear weapons program, lead to an Asian arms race and encourage other countries to seek exemptions from controls on nuclear trade.

The feared that regimes like Iran and North Korea could cite the US-India deal to pursue their own nuclear weapons ambitions.

Burns said he hoped that Congress would clear the deal by June so that it could be presented for endorsement by the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, which oversees trade in atomic fuel and technology.

"We hope that the vote will be positive.

"We are going to wait until Congress acts before we formally ask" the nuclear suppliers to endorse the deal, he said.

The nuclear deal needs to be accepted by the international Nuclear Suppliers Group to effectively end India's status as a nuclear pariah after it first tested a nuclear weapon three decades ago.