U.S. to work with India on nuclear non-proliferation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration wants to build on a U.S.-India civilian nuclear power deal to work with the Indians to strengthen the global non-proliferation system, a senior U.S. diplomat said on Monday.

A general view of the Cofrentes nuclear plant near Valencia July 21, 2008. REUTERS/Heino Kalis

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said the 2005 atomic power deal allowing New Delhi to import nuclear technology after a 33-year freeze gave both countries a duty to shore up the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty system.

“Both the United States and India have the responsibility to help to craft a strengthened NPT regime to foster safe, affordable nuclear power to help the globe’s energy and environment needs, while assuring against the spread of nuclear weapons,” he said.

India, which is not a signatory to the NPT, is nonetheless “in the position to look at the kinds of commitments it can make to be part of an international approach,” Steinberg said at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

The 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group agreed in September to lift a ban on nuclear trade with India, imposed after its first nuclear test in 1974 and for its refusal to join the NPT.

Washington overcame significant opposition to win the NSG waiver in order to implement the nuclear cooperation pact, a key strategic, clean energy, environmental and commercial goal of the United States.

India, Pakistan and Israel are the only countries never to have signed the NPT.

India’s special envoy for nuclear issues and climate change said the nuclear deal and NSG waiver meant his country was “now accepted as a partner in the global nuclear domain.”

“Thanks to the civil nuclear agreement, we are now, potentially at a different level of engagement on these hitherto sensitive and even contentious issues,” envoy Shyam Saran said at Brookings.

“How we deal with bringing India and Pakistan into the NPT world is a critical question,” Steinberg said.

How Washington and New Delhi would cooperate on non-proliferation issues would be worked out in talks once the Obama administration filled key posts and following India’s general elections in April and May, he added.

Reporting by Paul Eckert; Editing by Eric Beech