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'India-Iran ties may dampen N-deal'

India's training of Iranian troops may weaken vital US Congress support for the historic deal, says a top Democrat.
None | By Agence France-Presse, Washington
UPDATED ON APR 01, 2006 02:56 AM IST

India's training of Iranian troops could dampen vital US Congress support for a bilateral landmark civilian nuclear deal, a ranking Democrat warned on Thursday.

Tom Lantos, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives' powerful international relations committee scrutinizing the nuclear deal, expressed concern to visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran during talks here over India's training of the Iranian navy, the lawmaker's spokeswoman Lynne Weil told AFP.

"Congressman Lantos pointed out that episodes of conflict in relations between US and India, such as India's early wavering in its commitment to refer Iran to the UN Security Council and more recent concerns raised about Iranian troops receiving training from India will only undermine Congressional support for the deal," she said.

The Iranian Navy reportedly completed a five-day training program at the Indian naval base in Kochi in early March. Two Iranian Navy ships were anchored in the southern Indian city for nearly a week and some 200 cadets underwent training, news reports had said.

One report said the training marked the first military cooperation between Tehran and New Delhi in a decade.

Washington is trying to rein in Iran's uranium enrichment activities amid suspicion that Tehran could be pursuing covert development of nuclear weapons.

On Wednesday, the UN Security Council in New York unanimously voted to give Iran 30 days to fall into line with long-running calls to abandon uranium enrichment.

India is treading a tightrope as it tries to firm up a civilian nuclear deal with the United States and maintains its traditionally strong ties with neighbour Iran.

In February, India voted with 26 other nations to refer Iran to the UN Security Council, the second time New Delhi voted for pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program, which Iran insists is for peaceful purposes.

Lantos and Saran on Thursday discussed the US-Indian nuclear agreement in the larger context of bilateral relations "which they agreed are blossoming in many respects," Weil said.

But Lantos noted that "at a time when gestures from allies are significant -- not symbolic gestures alone but substantive gestures -- the Indian government should look for opportunities to make gestures that underscore the strength of the bilateral friendship," she said.

The India-US nuclear deal was clinched on March 2 by US President George W Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

It 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 countries that are not signatories of the Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

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

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