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US praises Manmohan Singh over N-pact

The White House warmly praises embattled Indian PM Manmohan Singh for "soldiering on" with a controversial US-India nuclear pact despite stiff opposition at home.

world Updated: Jul 22, 2008 20:55 IST

The White House warmly praised embattled Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday for "soldiering on" with a controversial US-India nuclear pact despite stiff opposition at home.

And Singh was "very confident" about the agreement's prospects when he met with US President George W Bush July 8th on the sidelines of a rich nation summit in Japan, spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters.

"Obviously, the politics in India have been tough to deal with, but he's been soldiering on and trying to build a consensus," Perino said as Singh's government battled to survive a confidence vote in the parliament.

"It will be up to their congress to make a decision as to if they're going to move forward or not with what we think is a really good opportunity for India" in the face of energy-hungry economic growth, said Perino.

"There's more support here than there at this time, but I know prime minister Singh has been working on it and he felt very confident" about the deal when he and Bush met in Toyako, Japan, said the spokeswoman.

Some US lawmakers oppose the deal on grounds that it could trigger a regional arms race, while, others have warned that time is running out for the US Congress, caught up in election-year fever, to ratify the pact.

Other critics say the deal undermines curbs on the global spread of nuclear know-how by embracing India, which has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), built its atomic arsenal in secret, and tested a bomb in 1974.

The deal allows India to be treated as a special case on condition it separates its civil and military programs and allows some UN inspections.

The outcome of India's confidence vote, expected later Tuesday, was unclear.

Defeat for Singh would send the world's largest democracy into early election mode, most likely after the monsoon season ends in late September, and could spell the end of the accord, which seeks to bring India into the fold of global nuclear trade.

Left-wing parties, who triggered the vote, argue the pact compromises India's nuclear weapons program and ties the country too closely to the United States.

Singh argues the nuclear pact is crucial for energy security and to sustain high economic growth. The country currently imports more than 70 percent of its energy needs, and needs an overhaul of its decrepit nuclear energy sector.

India's infrastructure is creaking under the strain of a booming and increasingly urbanized population. Black-outs are frequent in major cities, and even small family-owned businesses have to fork out large sums of money for generators and other power back-ups.

Analysts and the government say the dilapidated state of India's power network, roads and ports are a key constraint for growth and the overarching effort to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty.

But for India's left-wingers, communists and Hindu nationalists, the Indo-US accord is little more than a sell-out to an old foe and a betrayal of traditional Cold War ally Russia.

Also down the drain, they argue, is India's status as a figurehead of the Non-Aligned Movement and champion of the developing world.