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US Secretary of State Visits India to Discuss Nuclear Accord


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is arriving in India to discuss the U.S.-India civilian nuclear agreement, which has received approval in the U.S Congress. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, India's communist parties, who oppose the deal, plan to hold protest demonstrations during the visit.

Secretary Rice will hold talks Saturday with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee on the civilian nuclear pact, which the U.S. Congress approved this week.

The agreement ends a ban on sale of civilian nuclear technology and equipment to New Delhi, which was imposed in 1974 when India first conducted nuclear tests. India has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Former Indian foreign secretary and former Indian ambassador to the United States Lalit Mansingh says the pact represents a "big step forward" for India.

"Its real significance lies in the fact that the entire key to unlocking the three-and-a-half decades of technological isolation, these keys were in the hands of the United States," he said. "So, finally, the U.S. has come around to giving us the opening. Historically, it is very significant. Americans who took the leadership in imposing sanctions on India have finally helped India get out of it."

Mansingh says the pact will also enhance India's stature by allowing it to trade in civilian nuclear commerce, while retaining its nuclear weapons. "On the one hand, it enhances India's stature," he said. "On the other hand, it recognizes India's enhanced stature. India is getting into the higher league. India is going to be globally more active."

U.S. Secretary Rice hailed the agreement Thursday, before departing for India. "It is an agreement that cements an effort that we've been making for some time to bring together the world's largest democracy with the world's oldest continuous democracy," she said. "And we believe that the relationship between the United States and India is on a very firm footing, and that can only be good for democracy and it can only be good for the world."

Both India and Washington have been building closer ties in recent years.

However, Indian Communist parties continue to staunchly oppose the deal. They say the government has surrendered the country's sovereignty to U.S. imperialism, and plan to hold demonstrations on Saturday to protest the agreement. The largest opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, also says the agreement is not in India's interests.

The pact will effectively open a huge market worth billions of dollars to companies from Western countries to build civilian nuclear reactors in India.

Earlier this week, India signed an atomic energy pact with France during a visit by the Indian prime minister to Paris. Companies from France, Russia and the United States are expected to be on top of the list for engaging in nuclear commerce with India.