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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 June 2006, 06:06 GMT 07:06 UK
US panel backs India nuclear deal
Energy hungry India needs nuclear power
A US Congressional panel has backed a controversial plan to share civilian nuclear technology with India.

The deal offers US nuclear technology to India in exchange for inspectors' access to Indian civilian reactors.

The House of Representatives' International Relations Committee voted 37-5 for the deal, which must still be put to another panel and to Congress.

The agreement was hailed as historic by supporters, although critics say it will damage non-proliferation efforts.

Strategic re-alignment

President George W Bush finalised the agreement during a landmark trip to India in March.

Under the deal, energy-hungry India will get access to US civil nuclear technology and fuel, in return for opening its civilian nuclear facilities to inspection.

But its nuclear weapons sites will remain off-limits.

India has 14 reactors in commercial operation and nine under construction
Nuclear power supplies about 3% of India's electricity
By 2050, nuclear power is expected to provide 25% of the country's electricity
India has limited coal and uranium reserves
Its huge thorium reserves - about 25% of the world's total - are expected to fuel its nuclear power programme long-term
Source: Uranium Information Center

The agreement reverses US policy, which has restricted nuclear co-operation since India, which has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), tested a nuclear weapon in 1974.

"This is a historic hearing," said Democrat representative Tom Lantos, a sponsor of the proposed legislation.

He said the importance of the bill could not be overstated and the deal signalled a "sweeping strategic re-alignment" of India's global policies.

Indian analysts lauded the US panel backing the nuclear deal.

"The world has recognised India as a responsible nuclear weapon power. This debate is proof of this," C Rajamohan told the NDTV news channel.

The Indian Express newspaper said the "strong bipartisan support [in the House of Representatives' International Relations Committee] suggests that the political momentum behind this historic but controversial nuclear deal .. may now be unstoppable".


But critics of the deal say it could boost India's nuclear arsenal and sends the wrong message to countries like Iran, whose nuclear ambitions Washington opposes.

"The NPT has been knifed by an executive action," said Republican representative Jim Leach.

"Anyone who wants to present this as a happy day is making a very serious mistake."

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (left) and President Bush
Both governments see the deal as crucial
If the proposed deal is passed by the powerful US Senate Foreign Relations Committee later this week, it will then be voted on by the full House and Senate.

The BBC's Shahzeb Jillani in Washington says opinion is divided in Washington on whether the Bush administration has the bipartisan support it claims it has on the deal.

Last week, US Vice President Dick Cheney said he hoped Congress would move quickly to enact the legislation.

He said the deal was "one of the most important strategic foreign policy initiatives of President Bush's second term".

Critics believe that at a time when the stand-off with North Korea and Iran is deepening, a civilian co-operation deal with a country which has not signed the NPT severely undermines the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.

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