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Britain lends support to India-U.S. nuclear deal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Britain said on Monday it supported granting a waiver to India from a 45-nation group which polices exports of nuclear technology, a key step in finalising a nuclear energy deal with the United States.

The deal is being vigorously opposed by communist allies of the ruling coalition on the grounds it compromises India’s sovereignty. They have threatened to withdraw support and force an early election if the government presses ahead without their consent.

“The U.K. supports the India-U.S. civil nuclear co-operation initiative with all its elements, including an appropriate India specific exemption to the Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines,” a joint statement issued at the end of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s visit to India said.

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) works to prevent nuclear exports for peaceful purposes from being used to make atomic weapons. It must agree unanimously on an exemption for India if the deal is to go ahead as New Delhi has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“As two countries with advanced nuclear technology, India and the U.K. agree to promote co-operation in civil nuclear energy and will work expeditiously towards a bilateral agreement for this purpose, in line with their strong non-proliferation.”

India has said it hoped to wrap up talks this month with the U.N. nuclear watchdog for a safeguards pact needed to advance the agreement. The communists gave a green light for the talks but have said they want the deal to go no further.

After those steps, it must be finally approved by the U.S. Congress, considered a tall order in a U.S. election year, and even more uncertain under a new U.S. administration afterwards.

Many Indian analysts consider the deal as good as dead.

The India-U.S. civil nuclear cooperation agreement aims to allow New Delhi to access American nuclear fuel and reactors by overturning a three-decade ban imposed after India conducted a nuclear test while staying out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It is seen as the centrepiece of a new, strategic relationship between Washington and New Delhi. The government hopes it will help India meet its soaring energy needs.

Reporting by Surojit Gupta; Editing by Mark Williams