April 25, 2006

India confident US Congress to pass nuclear deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - India's self-imposed moratorium on
nuclear weapons testing should assuage doubts U.S. lawmakers
may have about passing a civil nuclear deal with the South
Asian nation, Indian Minister of Power Sushil Kumar Shinde said
on Tuesday.

"I'm quite confident of this (congressional approval)
because ... India has accepted these principles," Shinde said
in an interview.

The testing issue has emerged as the latest wrinkle in the
sweeping deal which would give India access for the first time
in three decades to U.S. and foreign nuclear technology,
including fuel and reactors, to meet India's soaring civilian
energy needs.

It must be approved by the U.S. Congress and the 45-nation
Nuclear Suppliers Group.

In the breakthrough agreement-in-principle on civilian
nuclear cooperation last July 18, Indian Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh made a unilateral declaration that India would
maintain a voluntary moratorium on nuclear weapons testing.

The United States and India are now negotiating a more
detailed peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement required under
U.S. law and proposed by the Bush administration which includes
reference to the testing moratorium.

Many Indians interpreted the reference as a U.S. move to
force India to agree to a permanent ban on nuclear testing and
Indian officials said last week they would not make such an
explicit commitment.

India has long refused to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban
Treaty, arguing it divides the world into nuclear haves and

But U.S. officials and experts say that instead of
committing India to a test ban, the provision asserts the U.S.
legal right to halt cooperation under the accord if India
conducts a weapons test.

"If the Indians mean what they say (about not testing),
they should have no quibble with this provision," said Daryl
Kimball, executive director of the private Arms Control

U.S. officials indicated on Monday that they were prepared
to negotiate exact language with India on this point.

Kimball said if the administration backed off from the
standard practice of reserving the U.S. right to halt
cooperation in the event of weapons testing, "it would be
giving India more favorable treatment than any other of the 40
countries" with which Washington has nuclear cooperation

Shinde said the world welcomed the U.S.-India deal and "I
think that in the course of time even the American senators,
regardless of party, will."

The nuclear deal represents a major warming in U.S.-India
relations but raised fears that it waters down efforts to curb
the spread of nuclear weapons.

India has not signed the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty,
has produced nuclear weapons outside international standards
and refuses to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.