From: Reuters
Published February 9, 2008 08:38 AM

U.S. warns India its now or never for nuclear deal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The United States has warned India it was now or never for a controversial nuclear cooperation deal which was unlikely to be offered again after President George W. Bush leaves office.

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told Reuters on Friday that "time was wasting" and warned India needed to move quickly to clear remaining international hurdles if the deal was to go through this year.

And in an interview released on Saturday and due to be broadcast on Sunday, the U.S. ambassador to India David Mulford went a step further, saying this might be India's last chance.

"If this is not processed in the present Congress it is unlikely that this deal will be offered again to India," he told CNN-IBN. "If it were to be revived it would have to go through the Committee process and I think the non-proliferation groups would insist on changes in many of the terms or additional conditions."

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"So I think the atmosphere is changing and therefore I believe, and I know both Republicans and Democrats believe in the United States, this is the time to finish this deal."

Asked if this meant it was now or maybe never, Mulford said: "That's pretty close to it."

The deal would give India access to U.S. nuclear fuel and equipment for the first time in 30 years even though New Delhi has tested nuclear weapons and refused to join nonproliferation agreements.

Proponents argue the deal will be the cornerstone of a new strategic relationship between the two nations. Some Indians, however, feel it infringes on their sovereignty while some nonproliferation advocates believe it undermines the global system designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

The Indian government's communist allies have warned they would withdraw support from the coalition if the deal was pushed through, but they have allowed the government to continue talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over the deal.

To go into effect, the pact has to clear three hurdles.

India must reach an agreement with the IAEA to place its civilian nuclear reactors under U.N. safeguards, and get clearance from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group that governs global civilian nuclear trade.

After those steps, it must secure a final approval from the U.S. Congress, where it enjoys bipartisan support but where its passage could be complicated by the short legislative calendar ahead of the U.S. November 4 election.

(Writing by Simon Denyer)

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