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US wants G8 to speak on nuke deal

india Updated: Jun 21, 2006 11:00 IST
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The United States hopes a Group of Eight (G8) summit in July will issue a statement backing its heavily criticised nuclear deal with India, which continues to divide the group, senior G8 diplomats said.

The landmark nuclear deal, agreed in principle last year to permit US civilian nuclear technology sales to India for the first time in three decades, has run into trouble in Washington where arms experts and some US lawmakers fear it would reward India for rejecting the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Efforts to persuade Iran to give up its uranium enrichment programme, which could produce atom bomb fuel, are also expected to be one of the main topics at the July 15-17 St Petersburg summit, alongside the issue of energy security.

Washington hopes the deal will spark the lifting of an international ban on nuclear trade with India.

But China, Japan and many of the 25 EU members have problems with the idea of rewarding India, EU diplomats said.

To boost the image of the deal, Washington is pushing G8 members to agree on a statement to be issued at the summit that is at least neutral in tone, senior G8 diplomats said.

"US, UK, France and Russia like the Indo-US deal, all others are neutral or think it's a bad idea. If the language is neutral, non-committal, you will know which side has prevailed," a Western G8 diplomat informed.

Another G8 diplomat said even a neutral statement could easily be marketed by the US government as a success.

The diplomats said it was worth noting that the G8's four nuclear powers liked the India deal while the others -- Canada, Japan, Italy and Germany -- are either opposed or neutral.

Observers

Other diplomats confirmed that Washington was pushing to get a statement on the India deal out of the G8 summit, where India, Brazil, China, South Africa and Mexico will attend as observers.

Washington has found it difficult to persuade a number of EU countries that the India deal is a good thing. But the EU half of the G8 is friendlier to the deal overall, diplomats said.

On the G8, only one of four EU members appears to be opposed -- Italy under its new government, an EU diplomat said. Germany expressed reservations but has adopted a neutral stance, German officials said on condition of anonymity.

"The US seems to be proceeding on the premise that if they can pressure enough groups to say something mildly positive about the India deal, they will get their way without having to defend the deal against a large number of countries who privately view it as a dangerous proposition," said Henry Sokolski, head of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Centre, a Washington-based think-tank.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in March that the timing of the Indo-US deal was not helpful as it coincided with the campaign against Iran.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will preside over Germany's G8 presidency next year, later said Berlin might eventually be ready to support Delhi's civil atomic programme.

The head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Moahmed ElBaradei, has spoken favourably of the deal but non-proliferation experts say it encourages atomic weapons proliferation and gives away too much to India, which, like its nuclear neighbour Pakistan and Israel, never signed the NPT.

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