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Last Updated: Friday, 17 November 2006, 15:23 GMT
Whoops of delight greet nuclear deal
By Jyoti Malhotra, Delhi

Mr Bush called up Mr Singh a few hours before the vote

The wheel, at long last, has come full circle.

Eight long years ago in the summer of 1998 when India conducted five nuclear tests in the deserts of Pokharan, in Rajasthan, Washington reacted angrily by clamping tough economic sanctions against Delhi.

But on Thursday, the US Senate voted overwhelmingly in favour of civil nuclear cooperation with India.

India has reacted with restrained joy to the news.

External Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, says India "welcomes the passage of the Bill...(which) undoubtedly reflects the very broad partisan support which this initiative enjoys".

There have been other private whoops of delight within the Indian establishment which, along with the Indian-American community in the US, lobbied hard over the last year and a half to persuade America's political representatives that the nuclear deal was good for both India and the US.

Bipartisan support

That bipartisan support was reflected in the 85 votes in favour to two against in the US Senate on Thursday.

And despite Senator Hillary Clinton, who earlier voted in favour of a "killer amendment" that sought to cap India's fissile production, her Democrat party colleagues clearly superseded any revengeful spirit they may have had after they took control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the US Congress to vote in favour of the India legislation.

Map showing India's nuclear reactors

Even Senator Clinton voted in favour of the Bill.

US President, George Bush, whose India policy is often seen as his "major foreign policy achievement" by many Democrats and Republicans, called Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, less than 24 hours before the vote to say that he would try his best to ensure that the legislation came through.

Mr Singh, who has pushed a brand new relationship with America despite stiff opposition from the Left parties at home, told Mr Bush that the final legislation also had to accommodate India's concerns.

India wants to keep eight nuclear reactors that are a key part of its military nuclear programme out of the public gaze.

It says it will not allow international inspection of these reactors and fissile material from these reactors will also not be open to public scrutiny.

'A nail in the coffin'

Critics in America say this will mean rewarding India for secretly developing a nuclear weapons programme and refusing to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

They say the civilian nuclear deal with India will drive a nail in the coffin of the international non-proliferation regime, and "implicitly make India the world's sixth nuclear weapons power".

At a press conference in Delhi, US Ambassador to India, David Mulford, refused to go into any characterisation of India as the world's sixth nuclear state.

Instead, he said, "This will allow India to emerge as a major world power. India will not be isolated any further."

Mr Mulford added: "(The deal) represents President Bush's vision of helping India become a world power and removing decades-old restrictions on India."

Mr Mulford says the deal will allow India to emerge as a world power

Mr Mulford's words were sweet music to Indian ears, which had suffered America's slights and insults after the Pokharan tests.

At the time, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declared: "India has dug itself into a hole."

Counterweight to China

Indian strategic analysts say it was the same America which, today, has taken India by the hand and announced its nuclear power status to the rest of the world.

They say that despite the overwhelming Indian criticism of America's invasion of Iraq in 2003 and Delhi turning down the US request to send troops to that country, the Bush administration went ahead and pushed the deal.

Also, they say the fact that the deal has been passed on the eve of the visit of Chinese President, Hu Jintao, to India and Pakistan is an indicator of America's desire to make India a counterweight to China.

Mr Mulford points towards the enormous economic gains that will result as a consequence of the nuclear deal.

America's largest business delegation to any country ever is due to visit Mumbai and Delhi at the end of November.

Many in the delegation will represent firms directly or indirectly related to the nuclear industry.

At present, India gets only 2.5 % of its total energy requirements from nuclear sources.

Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, says India needs to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and gradually move to clean energy sources, like wind and solar and nuclear energy.

And to sustain a 10% growth in the economy, Mr Singh says India needs a vast and uninterrupted supply of energy.

US officials secretly admit they hope the nuclear deal will sweeten the Indian government in talks over a whopping $6bn contract to buy 124 fighter aircraft from America.

After a defence cooperation agreement between the two countries last year, India for the first time ever requested the US to participate in an international tender relating to the purchase of a large number of defence aircraft.

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