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India Will Not Compromise National Security in Order to Close Nuclear Deal With US

  • Anjana Pasricha

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says the country will not compromise national security as it tries to seal a deal on civilian nuclear technology with the United States. Outstanding differences might prevent a deal being signed during this week's visit by President Bush.

Prime Minister Singh says India would open most, but not all, of its nuclear facilities to United Nations inspection in exchange for a deal with the United States giving India access to civilian nuclear energy technology.

The two countries have spent months in negotiations over India's plans to separate its military and civilian facilities, so the latter can be thrown open for international inspection.

Mr. Singh told parliament Monday that critical military facilities would remain closed to outsiders.

"The separation plan that is being outlined is not only consistent with the imperatives of national security, it also protects our vital research and development interests," he said.

It is not clear if this would allow enough international oversight to satisfy skeptics in the U.S. Congress, which has to approve any deal.

A deal was to have been ready for signing when President Bush visits India Wednesday - but it is now unclear if agreement will be reached in time.

India primarily wants to bar inspections of its "fast breeder" reactors, which are well suited to producing plutonium for atomic weapons. Critics of the plan say it could harm global non-proliferation efforts and allow India to develop more-powerful weapons.

Mr. Singh's statement was aimed at allaying domestic fears that he might compromise Indian security as he tries to accommodate U.S. concerns.

"I reiterate today that no part of this process would affect or compromise our strategic project," he said.

The agreement was originally conceived as a way to help India meet its growing energy needs. Under current international rules, India is barred from access to civilian nuclear energy technology because it is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.