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India not a threat to NPT: Lantos
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
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April 06, 2006 10:05 IST
Last Updated: April 06, 2006 12:42 IST

Congressman Tom Lantos, the senior-most Democrat of the House International Relations Committee, on Wednesday said India and the United States need each other in the war against terrorism, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. 

Addressing the Committee, where US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice [Images] testified on the Indo-US nuclear deal, Lantos said, 'We are at a hinge of history. With this proposed agreement, we stand at a threshold. The door could swing open toward to a new era of cooperation and joint action.  Or, if we fail to seize this opportunity, the door could slam shut.'

He said the two countries must recognize that whatever differences they may have had during the decades of the Cold War do not apply in the 21st Century.

Lantos said: 'We now have powerful overriding common interests: combating violent Islamic extremism, ensuring lasting stability in war-torn Afghanistan, battling HIV/AIDS, and fostering a rapprochement between India and Pakistan.'

But in order to become a strategic ally of the United States, he said, India must recognise some basic facts, specifically some facts with respect to Iran: It is a terrorist state whose current regime strives to develop nuclear weapons. At this committee's first hearing on the proposed nuclear deal, I and others on this committee made it clear that a 'business as usual' relationship with the current terrorist regime in Tehran is unacceptable behavior by any country seeking to be our strategic partner.'

Lantos said since then New Delhi has taken unprecedented steps to support US efforts to isolate and to pressure Iran diplomatically over its decades-long deceitful actions to acquire nuclear weapons capabilities. 

'India's two crucial votes in the International Atomic Energy Agency in support of resolutions condemning Iran's deceit and ultimately referring Iran to the UN Security Council were the right action for a great democracy.  These votes were welcomed in the democratic world and they were devastating to the Ayatollahs,' he said.

Lantos said that during his recent meeting with Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, he told him that any military cooperation with the present terrorist regime in Iran will certainly derail this deal in Congress.

Recent reports regarding alleged training of Iranian naval cadets during a port visit to India are a case in point: They have the potential to raise questions regarding India's policies toward Tehran.  There can be no equivocation on India's part regarding Iran under its current management.

'India already has both nuclear weapons and civilian nuclear power plants. So we are not here to debate whether India belongs in the exclusive nuclear club; it is a de facto member already. The question is whether the agreement before us, bringing India's civilian program under the international non-proliferation regime, represents an improvement over the status quo. It is self-evident that it does,' he said.

Assuring the supporters of the NPT, Lantos said the NPT still lives despite its demise having been predicted many times. 

'The real threat to nonproliferation does not come from democratic India, but from non-democratic states such as Iran and North Korea, and how the great powers decide to handle them. 

'If we waver, if Russia [Images] and China and India decide to tolerate a nuclear Iran rather than prevent its emergence, the nonproliferation regime will wither away, a victim of death by appeasement. 

'We need India on our side in this fight, not standing on the sidelines, and the agreement helps along these lines,' Lantos said about the nuclear deal.

He added: 'It is time the United States recognised that India has become a great power, a rising giant of democracy that commands the world's respect.'

He said India must also recognise that its interests lie with the United States and its allies.

Lantos said while there were many legitimate criticisms of the agreement, the committee had to approach its consideration of the deal realistically.  

'The administration will not get all it wants from our committee, but neither will our committee get its entire wish list. This is, after all, another negotiation. And I fully expect that at the end of our discussions, we will have a legislative package that launches a new and exciting era in the US-India relationship.'

Another important lawmaker, Congressman Henry Hyde, said the deal may have a detrimental impact on US and global nonproliferation policy and asked whether the deal in itself enhances or undermines US and global non-proliferation policy.

'If one arrives at a positive conclusion, then support of the overall agreement is axiomatic.  If the judgment is negative, then a second question occurs, namely: Are these negative consequences so grave that they outweigh the potential benefits of the overall agreement?' Hyde asked.

'If the judgment is that the asymmetry renders the whole a net negative, a third question arises, namely: Are there changes to the civil nuclear provisions that can be made that would be sufficient to persuade opponents to support the package as a whole?' he added.

Observers said these comments from the lawmakers probably mean that the committee may attach conditions that both the Administration and India have said will be 'deal-breakers.'

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