India, US seal nuclear cooperation deal

NEW DELHI - India and the United States yesterday sealed a landmark civilian nuclear cooperation pact, the centrepiece of President George W. Bush's first visit to the world's largest democracy.

"We have concluded an historic agreement today on nuclear power," Bush told a joint news conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

"I am looking forward to working with our United States Congress to change decades of law that will enable us to move forward in this important initiative."

The deal, which would give India access to US nuclear technology to meet its soaring energy needs, has been opposed by some members of the US Congress because India has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

As Bush met Singh in India, a car bomb killed five people outside the US consulate and Marriott Hotel in Karachi in neighbouring Pakistan, the country that is next on the itinerary of Bush's South Asia tour.

Bush said at least one US citizen, a foreign service officer, was among those killed, but said he would not be put off from visiting the country, a key ally in his war on terror.

"Terrorists and killers are not going to prevent me from going to Pakistan," he said.

At least 35 people were wounded in the blast in the southern port city. Bush is due to hold talks in Pakistan on Saturday.

He arrived in the Indian capital after a surprise visit to Afghanistan, where thousands of US troops are still engaged in hunting down the architects of the September 11 attacks.

CONTROVERSIAL DEAL

The three-day visit to India was seen as a growing recognition in Washington of the strategic and economic significance of India after decades of mistrust between the two countries.

The nuclear cooperation deal was the centrepiece of the visit and negotiators had worked late into the night on Wednesday to bridge the "last few gaps" between the two sides, officials said.

Under the deal, India has agreed to separate its civilian and military nuclear programmes and place the civilian plants under international inspections.

In return, the United States is offering nuclear technology and fuel. That would end decades of nuclear isolation for India, which was placed under international sanctions after conducting nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998.

The deal, agreed in principle last July when Singh visited Washington, ran into trouble due to differences over India's plan to separate its military and civilian atomic plants.

It has also been buffeted by strong opposition from non-proliferation lobbies in the United States and India's nuclear establishment which has balked at American interference in what has been an isolated, indigenous nuclear programme.

India has refused to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty calling it discriminatory, leading to its isolation.

India's extensive atomic weapons programme to counter Pakistan and China's nuclear arms is a further concern for some members of the US Congress, who have cast doubt on the viability of any deal between Singh and Bush.

Earlier Bush, who told an Indian newspaper last week that his first memory of India was of freedom-movement leader Mahatma Gandhi, paid homage at his memorial on the banks of the Yamuna river in the capital.

Bush removed his shoes as a mark of respect at the memorial and laid a wreath with wife Laura. Both of them bowed their heads and threw flower petals on the gleaming marble surface.

ANGRY PROTESTS

While Bush's visit, the fifth by a US president to India, has drawn a lot of attention across the country of 1.1 billion people, it has also inflamed passions among communist and Muslim groups opposed to American policies such as the invasion of Iraq.

Hours before the US president arrived in India, tens of thousands of people took to the streets across the country, burning effigies of Bush, shouting slogans, carrying placards and bringing traffic to a standstill in a few cities.

Organisers vowed to hold larger protests on Thursday and police said security had been stepped up in New Delhi to prevent any trouble.

Commandos with machine guns were seen at major intersections in the capital at dawn and police asked people to stay away from the heart of the city due to traffic restrictions and protests.

"We are taking no chances. After all, he is the president of USA," a police spokesman said.

 

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 21 Sep 2014 08:53:53 Processing Time: 1090ms