Vol. 5 Num 926 Sat. January 06, 2007  

Leftists to campaign against Indo-US deal

India's main communist party, which shores up the federal coalition, said on Thursday it would launch a campaign against a controversial nuclear deal with the United States, saying it was not in the country's interests.

Legislation approved by the US Congress last month backing the landmark deal had objectionable clauses and coerced India to align its foreign policy with that of the United States, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) said.

"The actual terms set out in the legislation does not offer 'full civilian nuclear cooperation'," the party said in a statement after its central committee met in the eastern city of Kolkata.

The party, whose support is crucial to the survival of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition, urged the government not to proceed with the deal until all its "extraneous terms and foreign policy implications" were cleared.

"The Central Committee calls upon the party to launch a campaign against the dangers inherent in the Indo-US nuclear agreement," it said, without elaborating on the campaign.

President George W. Bush last month signed into law the bill approved by Congress, a major step towards allowing India to buy US nuclear reactors and fuel for the first time in 30 years.

But it still must be approved by the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and again by the US Congress before nuclear trade can start.

The US Congress attached several conditions to the law, which have not gone down well with New Delhi, and Singh has said further tough negotiations were likely over a bilateral agreement the two countries need to sign.

Those negotiations are due to begin this month and Washington has said it hopes to get the approvals it needs by the middle of this year.

Under the bill, the US president would be required to end the export of nuclear materials if India tests another nuclear device as it did in 1998.

The US president is also required to report to Congress annually on whether India was cooperating with international efforts to restrain Iran's nuclear programme.

Critics say the bill fails to guarantee uninterrupted fuel supplies for civilian reactors and prevents India from reprocessing spent fuel.

The deal has also been strongly opposed by the US non-proliferation lobby, which says Washington is undermining efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons by cooperating with India, which has tested nuclear devices and not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Although Bush has hinted he may not be bound by the Congress changes, the CPI-M said it was not satisfied by such a "subjective interpretation".

"A new president assuming office in 2008 can decide to abide by the provisions of the law," it said. "A majority in (India's) parliament are against proceeding with the bilateral agreement on the terms set out by the United States."