(Adds U.S. comment, paragraphs 8-9)
By Jatindra Dash
BHUBANESWAR, India, April 18 (Reuters) - India on Wednesday postponed the test launch of its first long-range missile capable of reaching deep into China and as far as Europe due to bad weather, a government official said.
The launch of the Agni V, which can carry nuclear warheads and has a range of 5,000 km (3,125 miles), will thrust the emerging Asian power into an elite club of nations with intercontinental nuclear defence capabilities.
“Due to heavy lightning in the area, the scheduled test flight of Agni V has been postponed til tomorrow for safety reasons,” defence ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar told Reuters.
The launch of the Indian-made Agni V, if successful, would be the crowning achievement of a missile program developed primarily to counter any threat from China.
Only the U.N. Security Council permanent members - China, France, Russia, the United States and Britain - have such long-range weapons.
The planned launch, which was flagged well in advance, has attracted none of the criticism faced by hermit state North Korea for its failed bid to test a missile last week.
“We do not consider India a threat to NATO allies or NATO territory,” NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels ahead of the launch.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department downplayed the planned launch by India, which it said enjoyed a “very strong strategic and security partnership” with Washington.
“We urge all nuclear capable states to exercise restraint regarding nuclear capabilities,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. “That said, India has a solid non-proliferation record. They’re engaged with the international community on non-proliferation issues.”
Thursday’s launch may prompt a renewed push from within the defence establishment to build a fully fledged intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the Americas, though some of India’s allies may bridle at such an ambition. (Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn in Washington; writing by Arup Roychoudhury and Frank Jack Daniel; editing by Myra MacDonald and Todd Eastham)