India protests US nuclear demands

India balks at the US ambassador's suggestion that it condemn the Iranian atomic program.

india Updated: Jan 27, 2006 11:19 IST

India is protesting the U.S. ambassador's suggestion that an Indian-U.S. deal on civilian nuclear technology could fall apart unless New Delhi backs Washington's efforts to refer Iran's atomic program to the U.N. Security Council.

India's foreign minister said the remarks were inappropriate, and a former prime minister called them an "outrageous" violation of diplomatic protocol.

Under the deal signed in July, Washington is to share civilian nuclear technology and supply nuclear fuel to India in return for New Delhi separating its civilian and military nuclear programs and allowing international inspections of its nuclear facilities. But U.S. Ambassador David Mulford said Wednesday that if India does not vote next month to refer Iran to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions, it would be "devastating" to the U.S.-Indian deal currently before the U.S. Congress.

"I think the Congress will simply stop considering the matter," Mulford told the Press Trust of India news agency, adding that the pact "will die in the Congress." The U.S. State Department said the envoy was speaking for himself.

India Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran told Mulford at a meeting Thursday that the remarks "were inappropriate and not conducive to building a strong partnership between our two independent democracies," the External Affairs Ministry said in statement.

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who ordered India's nuclear tests in 1998, called Mulford's comments "outrageous." "It violates all diplomatic norms. Ambassadors are not required to make personal remarks denigrating their host country,"

The Indian Express newspaper quoted Vajpayee as saying. Mulford's unusually frank comments came as Washington intensifies efforts to win support at the International Atomic Energy Agency for its plan use the Security Council to pressure Iran to end its nuclear program. The IAEA board, on which India sits, is due to meet Feb. 2 to discuss Iran. India has long-standing ties with Iran.

U.S. Embassy spokesman David Kennedy confirmed that Saran and Mulford met Thursday but could not provide any details of their talks. But India's Foreign Ministry quoted Saran as telling Mulford: "India's vote on any possible resolution on the Iran nuclear issue at the IAEA would be determined by India's own judgment of the merits of the case."

A referral to the Security Council could lead to economic and political sanctions against Iran. The United States and European powers fear Tehran could use its nuclear program to develop atomic weapons. Iran insists its program is only for generating electricity.

European countries believe they have enough votes at the IAEA to bring Iran before the Security Council. But they are seeking support from Russia, China and key developing nations, including India. Although New Delhi agrees with Washington that Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, it has pushed a softer line, urging negotiations with Tehran.

New Delhi voted in September with the United States and European powers on an earlier IAEA resolution that could have led to Iran's referral to the council.

But the Indian government faced fierce domestic criticism over the move from its left-wing political allies, who accused it of selling out a longtime ally to curry favor with Washington. New Delhi has, in recent weeks, appeared hesitant to repeat the vote, instead urging negotiations with Tehran.

First Published: Jan 27, 2006 11:18 IST