New Delhi: India told the US Bush administration Thursday to use its “full weight” to get Congress to approve a landmark nuclear deal with New Delhi.
At the same time, it said it would permit no changes in the agreement to ensure its passage.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told parliament the deal he struck with President George W. Bush on a visit to Washington in July — which would give India crucial access to civilian atomic technology — was a “binding commitment.”
Singh was seeking to allay Indian opposition suspicions that Washington has been asking for concessions from India and that New Delhi might grant them.
The agreement has been the target of loud criticism from some US lawmakers and proliferation experts, who complain it undermines international nuclear non-proliferation efforts and should be stricter.
Singh denied the deal was in trouble, saying there is “no stalemate” in implementing it.
At the same time, he said: “I expect the US Administration to use its full weight to get the necessary approval of the US Congress.”
Energy-hungry New Delhi has been denied access to nuclear technology for over two decades since it first tested a nuclear weapon and refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
The oil-import dependent nation is seeking to broaden its fuel sources to sustain its booming economy. Nuclear power supplies around three percent of the fuel needs of the nation of more than one billion but it intends to raise this to 25 percent by mid-century.
The US sees the deal as a key step to improving ties with India which it regards increasingly as an important counterweight to China.
Singh said the agreement would proceed on the basis of “strict reciprocity.”
“If the US does not carry out its obligations, we are also free not to carry out our obligations,” he told parliament's upper house.
He was referring to the pact's provisions under which the US said it would seek Congressional agreement to change US laws and would work with other nuclear nations to enable civilian nuclear energy cooperation with India.
For its part, Singh said India would “reciprocally agree” to assume the same responsibilities as other countries with advanced nuclear technology. These include separating civilian and military nuclear facilities in a phased manner.
A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in New Delhi “nothing has been changed from the deal cut in July.”
A second meeting of the Nuclear Working Group thrashing out details of the accord is to expected be held next Wednesday and Thursday in Washington, the prime minister said.
The group, headed by Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, met for the first time October 21 in New Delhi and the Indian premier described it as a “good meeting”.
Western opponents of the deal say it does not justify making big exceptions to US law and international non-proliferation practices. However, proponents say any insistence on its renegotiation could result in its collapse.
Proliferation experts also say the agreement could undermine US efforts to get North Korea and Iran to curtail their nuclear programmes.
The senior US official in New Delhi cautioned the agreement “will not be finished” by the time Bush is expected to visit India in the second half of February or the first half of March.
“This deal has a lot of moving parts, it takes time to be negotiated,” he said. At the same time, he said the agremeent had “a good chance of passage” by Congress since it had bipartisan suppport.