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Obama: would not change India nuclear deal now

MUMBAI (Reuters) - U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who voted in the Senate for a civilian nuclear trade deal between India and the United States, would not seek changes to it at this stage, an Indian news magazine quoted him as saying.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), speaks during a town hall meeting at McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Georgia, July 8, 2008. REUTERS/Tami Chappell/Files

“I voted for the U.S.-India nuclear agreement because India is a strong democracy and a natural strategic partner for the U.S. in the 21st century,” he told Outlook magazine, according to a transcript provided by the magazine Friday.

His attitude toward the deal may prove decisive if India fails to finalize the deal before the end of U.S. President George W. Bush’s term in January and Obama wins the November U.S. election.

Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh shook hands on the deal, which gives India access to U.S. nuclear resources and technology for energy, in 2005. Since then it has been stalled by opposition from the anti-U.S. communist allies of India’s coalition government, and at moments almost given up for dead.

The communists this week withdrew support for the Indian government, which now faces a confidence vote despite moving to prop up its position in parliament with the help of a regional party whose leader backs the deal.

If India misses the effective deadline of the November U.S. elections, it may seek to revive the deal under the next administration, although pessimists say it may have to agree to less favorable terms.

Obama noted that the U.N. watchdog agency -- the International Atomic Energy Agency -- and a 45-nation group that controls nuclear trade still had to weigh in on aspects of the deal.

“A final judgment on the deal ... must await the IAEA’s approval of a safeguards agreement with India and changes to be agreed (upon) by the Nuclear Suppliers Group,” he said.

“At that point, the US Congress will decide whether to approve the agreement. I continue to hope this process can be concluded before the end of the year,” Obama said.

“The existing agreement effectively balanced a range of important issues, from our strategic relationship with India to our non-proliferation concerns to India’s energy needs,” he told the magazine, which will publish the interview Saturday.

“I am therefore reluctant to seek changes.”

He said the deal would help combat global warming by giving India an alternative to coal and that he hoped it would be finalized by the end of this year.

The deal has drawn controversy since India is outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), tested nuclear bombs in 1974 and 1998 and says the accord will not curb its military nuclear programmed -- including the right to more tests if needed.

It is potentially worth billions of dollars to U.S. and European nuclear supply companies, and would give India alternatives to high-polluting and expensive oil and gas energy to carry its booming economy.

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