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India's demands may harm N-deal: report

The Indo-US deal risks a collapse over India's demand for right to continue testing N-weapons, says USA Today.

world Updated: Apr 13, 2007 14:25 IST

The Indo-US civil nuclear deal risks a collapse because Indian demands including the right to continue testing nuclear weapons - undermine the US rationale for seeking it, according to a leading American daily.

President George Bush sold the deal to Congress last year by saying it would help prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, avert an arms race between India and neighbouring Pakistan, and cement the US relationship with India, said USA Today on Thursday.

Now, though, India is making demands that would increase and not reduce its military nuclear capabilities, it suggested citing unnamed senior administration officials and "nuclear experts" known to be opposed to the deal. At the same time, it has developed closer ties with Iran, they said.

USA Today said Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state who supervised the negotiations with India, acknowledged that three rounds of talks with India have produced little.

"I don't question India's goodwill," Burns was quoted as saying. "But there is a fair degree of frustration in Washington that the Indian government has not engaged seriously enough or quickly enough with both the United States and the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)."

There is no deadline for completion of the deal, but the US daily cited two senior Bush administration officials as saying India's demands could torpedo an agreement. "The two asked not to be named to avoid jeopardising the talks, which are to resume later this month," it said.

According to the unnamed US officials, India wants three things:
* Permission to buy uranium-enrichment and plutonium-reprocessing technology from the United States. Both have military applications, and sales are prohibited in most cases by US law.
* No limits on testing nuclear weapons. The administration has told India that the United States reserves the right to terminate nuclear cooperation if India tests again. Its last test was in 1998.
* US approval to reprocess used nuclear fuel from power plants. Such fuel can be turned into bombs.

"The Indians are being greedy," USA Today quoted Henry Sokolski, head of the Non-proliferation Policy Education Centre, a Washington think tank, as saying. It cited him to suggest the agreement might not be implemented before the Bush administration leaves office.

It also cited Robert Einhorn, a proliferation expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, as saying India's Department of Atomic Energy "may want the deal to fall through" to shield itself from competition from foreign contractors with nuclear engineering expertise, such as General Electric and Westinghouse.

Einhorn said another possibility is that "the Indian strategy is to hold out ... and hope the administration will cave" to avoid the collapse of what it regards as a foreign policy triumph, according to the daily. It cited Sokolski as saying India's pursuit of other sensitive technology and its desire for close relations with Iran raise questions about whether it will safeguard the nuclear technology it would get under the deal.

First Published: Apr 13, 2007 11:33 IST