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Thursday, October 2, 2008

US Signs Up To India Nuclear Deal

India's governing party has hailed a controversial nuclear energy deal with the US as a "monumental achievement".

An official said that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would visit New Delhi soon to sign the accord.

The US Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of overturning a three-decade ban on atomic trade with India, allowing American businesses to begin selling nuclear fuel, technology and reactors in exchange for safeguards and UN inspections of India's civilian nuclear plants.

The US House of Representatives had earlier approved the accord, which now goes to President George Bush, a consistent supporter of the deal, for final approval.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was forced to call a confidence vote in his government in July after his former communist allies withdrew support from his coalition in protest at the nuclear agreement.

They said it would bring too much American influence into Indian politics.

Mr Singh narrowly won the vote by forging a new alliance with a regional socialist party but there were tumultuous scenes in parliament as opponents accused the government of making underhand deals to win support.

Reacting to the US Senate's approval, Veerappa Moily, a spokesman for India's ruling Congress party, said: "The nuclear deal is a monumental achievement. It's a victory of Prime Minister Singh's government."

Mr Bush said the deal would "strengthen our global nuclear nonproliferation efforts, protect the environment, create jobs and assist India in meeting its growing energy needs in a responsible manner".

India has refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and has been subject to a nuclear trade ban since its first atomic test in 1974.

Its most recent nuclear test blast was in 1998.

Opposition and communist parties criticised the deal, saying India has forfeited its right to hold future nuclear tests, and vowed to continue to oppose it.

Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party spokesman Rajiv Pratap Rudy said: "The deal has been done at the cost of the country's sovereignty and nuclear independence."

Communist Party of India leader D Raja said left-wing parties would intensify their countrywide protests in the hope of preventing the government from implementing the nuclear pact.

India imports about 75% of its oil and Mr Singh, the architect of India's 1991 transformation from a socialist to a capitalist-style economy, has argued the country needs the nuclear deal to power its financial growth and lift its citizens out of poverty.

India has faced a shortage of enriched uranium and the accord will help it obtain fuel for its 22 civilian nuclear reactors which currently operate at less than 50% of capacity, said K Subrahmanyam, a defence expert and former member of India's National Security Council.

(Source: Sky News)

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