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India Calls US Ambassador's Iran Comments Inappropriate

India's foreign secretary called the U.S. ambassador in for a meeting to discuss what New Delhi said were the ambassador's inappropriate comments about India's relationship with Iran. The ambassador had suggested the U.S. Congress would reject a deal to share nuclear technology with India if New Delhi did not back Washington's efforts to bring Iran before the U.N. Security Council. But a U.S. embassy spokesman says the ambassador's comments were taken out of context.

The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi put out a statement to clarify Ambassador David Mulford's comments to a local news agency, after they threatened to cause a diplomatic scandal.

Embassy spokesman David Kennedy said the agency, the Press Trust of India, chose to highlight a personal observation made by Ambassador Mulford during an interview. But Kennedy says the ambassador's comments do not reflect any official stance by the U.S. toward India.

"In effect, he said that he said that Congress would react very negatively if India did not vote to refer Iran to the Security Council on February 2, that would have a very negative reaction in Congress. That was what he was referring to," he said.

India's Foreign Ministry has called the comments inappropriate and said they were not conducive to building a strong partnership between the two nations.

For months, the U. S. and India have been working towards a landmark deal to share civilian nuclear technology.

But the embassy spokesman says the ambassador's comment linking the nuclear deal to the Iran issue was taken out of context given the bulk of the statements made by Ambassador Mulford during the interview.

"The ambassador had emphasized that the government of India would base any decisions on its own national interests on the issue of Iran," he added.

The U.S. and European Union are trying to counter Iran's nuclear program, which they say is intended to develop nuclear weapons. Both have been lobbying India and other members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to vote to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions, if it does not abandon its nuclear enrichment program.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for civilian use only.

With more than a billion people and a rapidly expanding economy, India wants nuclear power to fulfill its massive energy needs.

If passed by the U.S. Congress, the deal to share civilian nuclear technology would dramatically reverse decades of U.S. policy toward India. Since India tested its first nuclear weapon in 1974, the United States has sought to isolate India's nuclear program, because India has never signed the global non-proliferation treaty.

The nuclear deal is expected to be one of the main topics of discussion during President Bush's upcoming visit to India, now expected in March.