Fri, Aug 18, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Indians upset over US nuke deal changes

AGENCIES , NEW DELHI

The Indian government came under renewed pressure yesterday over a controversial nuclear deal with the US as lawmakers accused Washington of arm-twisting New Delhi to curb its atomic program.

Not only was Washington seeking to indirectly cap New Delhi's nuclear weapons program, it was also trying to impinge on India's right to pursue atomic research for peaceful purposes, they said.

The new criticism came in a debate in parliament amid rising concerns that US congressmen were moving the goalposts over the deal through amendments to legislation that needs to be approved before the deal is sealed.

A group of Indian scientists, the governing party's communist allies and the main Hindu nationalist opposition say that last month's agreement between India and the US for civilian nuclear cooperation was modified by US lawmakers with the insertion of new clauses last month.

Eight scientists in an open letter to lawmakers on Monday said the current deal "infringes on our independence for carrying out indigenous research and development in nuclear science ... Research and technology development are the sovereign rights of any nation."

"We have never been in any doubt over the deleterious impact of this deal," Yashwant Sinha, a lawmaker from India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, told the upper house of parliament.

"We believe it was meant to cap India's nuclear weapons program, our strategic program," said Sinha, a former foreign minister.

The parliament debate came weeks before the US Senate is expected to vote on the landmark deal after the House of Representatives gave overwhelming backing to it last month.

The deal also needs the joint approval of the two houses after negotiations on technical details of the pact and the backing of the Nuclear Suppliers Group of nations that regulates global atomic trade.

The civilian nuclear cooperation pact gives nuclear-armed India access to US atomic fuel and equipment, despite New Delhi not having signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to help meet its soaring energy needs.

In return, New Delhi has agreed to international inspections of its civilian nuclear reactors and the segregation of its civilian and military programs.

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