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India Awaits US Senate Passage of Civil Nuclear Pact

India's government is hailing passage in the U.S. House of Representatives of a historic civil nuclear agreement between the two countries.  Senate approval is being eagerly awaited in the Indian capital, but VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports that opposition parties remain critical of the pact.

India is expressing confidence that after passage in the U.S. House of Representatives the civil nuclear deal between Washington and New Delhi will enjoy quick approval by American Senators.

Indian leaders were anxious to see passage in the lower house of Congress because they believe the agreement will have an easier ride through the Senate where the Foreign Relations Committee has already given its blessing.

India's Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sabil hails the House passage of the pact as a historic step.

The government minister says it is wonderful that no changes were made to the agreement and he is hopeful that the U.S. Senate will approve it without alterations so that it can be formally signed.

Both U.S. and Indian leaders hope the signatures can be put on the document during a visit to New Delhi later this week by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  

India media report that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while on his way to France for a summit with the European Union, expressed happiness that one legislative hurdle had been cleared.  But Mr. Singh said he would await the final outcome in Washington before declaring success.

The largest opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, remains unenthusiastic. Former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha of the BJP tells reporters that the Indian government touted the deal as ensuring Indian atomic reactors would have a lifetime supply of nuclear fuel.

"There is no such assurance.  Americans say there is no legal assurance.  It is only a political commitment.  The intention of the United States is to reach [bring] India within the nuclear non-proliferation network," he said.

The deal is considered significant because the international overseers of nuclear commerce agreed to it even though India is not a signatory to any of the key global non-proliferation pacts.

India's leftist parties, which gave Prime Minister Singh his biggest headache in pushing the deal, contend the agreement means surrendering the country's sovereignty.  

"We think that this will only seal the India surrender to American diktats.  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is in his own time warp, time wrap.  I mean he says the Indian people love [President] Bush," said The Parliamentary leader of India's Marxist-wing Communist Party is Sitaram Yechury.  "I mean can there be anything father than the truth?"

International critics contend the agreement undermines preventing the spread of nuclear weapons by allowing sales of such technology to those who have not agreed to full safeguards.

Energy-hungry India, which has 17 nuclear power plants, was blacklisted for 35 years in the global atomic commerce community as punishment for its previous nuclear-weapons tests. 
 

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