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Bush Admn pitches for N-deal acceptance

The Bush administration has kicked off consultations with US Congress on the Indo-US nuke deal, reports S Rajagopalan.

india Updated: Mar 08, 2006 02:10 IST

The Bush administration has kicked off consultations with US Congress on the Indo-US nuke deal, marking the start of what could be protracted efforts to convince lawmakers that it is “a good deal for American interests” and one that will not undermine the non-proliferation regime.

Barely a day after President George W. Bush’s return from his South Asia visit, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns went to Capitol Hill on Monday to brief lawmakers on the deal clinched in New Delhi last Thursday.

And the White House, signalling that it is anxious not to lose time or momentum, has invited leading Senators and Congressmen for a meeting with President Bush later on Tuesday.

This alacrity notwithstanding, Burns conceded during a presentation at the Heritage Foundation that it is going to be “a very intensive debate” -- one that could take “several weeks, or even months”.

Both President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be talking to Senators and Congressmen over the next week or two to make the case that the pact is “a major, major gain for the non-proliferation community” and that it advances US interests, Burns said.

In a comprehensive address, Burns rejected the contention in some quarters that the deal will enhance India’s weapons programme, trigger an arms race with Pakistan and will also provide a justification for Iran to pursue its push for nuclear weapons.

“We don’t see the connection between what Iran is doing and what India seeks to do,” he said. Pointing out that India is moving towards accepting International Atomic Energy Agency’s safeguards, while Iran is trying to extricate itself from those obligations, he commented: “India is the responsible one, Iran is the irresponsible one.”

As for the critics’ claims on the deal giving a fillip to India’s weapons programme, Burns said: “We’re having trouble understanding the argument that somehow this deal makes it more likely that India is going to engage in an arms build up. That’s not at all the sense that we have from the Indian government.”

“India has a strategic (nuclear weapons) programme” that is outside the scope of the deal which is confined to civil nuclear cooperation. The US’s own assessment is that much of India’s focus will be in the nuclear power sector, given its colossal energy demand. And here, Burns noted, India has pledged to bring all future civil -- both thermal and breeder -- reactors under IAEA safeguards.

India, Burns conceded, has the “sovereign right” to pursue its strategic programme, but pointed out that it would not be getting international assistance for reactors under this head since they will not be in the safeguarded category.

The US, Burns stressed, has not and will not recognise India as a nuclear weapons power. The deal only seeks to “make space” for in the international non-proliferation regime so that, after 30 years of isolation, it can gain the advantages of that system by submitting itself to IAEA’s oversight and inspections.

First Published: Mar 07, 2006 17:14 IST