By Judy Mathewson, Bloomberg
Washington: India’s ties with Iran could “significantly” jeopardize congressional approval of a final nuclear technology accord, top US lawmakers told Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a letter.
“Regarding Iran, we are deeply concerned by India’s increasing cooperation with that country,” the bipartisan group said in the message.
The letter cites visits between high-level Indian and Iranian officials and “enhanced military ties” between the two countries. It was sent a day after Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon talked with officials at the State Department in Washington on differences with the US that are holding up the agreement. During the visit, Menon disavowed closer military ties with Iran.
Among the seven lawmakers who signed the letter is Representative Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The California Democrat pushed hard last year to secure initial congressional backing for the plan’s broad outlines.
“It is difficult for us to fathom why India, a democracy engaged in its own struggle against terrorism, would want to enhance security cooperation with a repressive government widely regarded as the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism,” the letter said.
The US and India have spent almost two years negotiating the accord, which would allow US nuclear technology and fuel to be sold to help the Indian government supply its power industry. The nuclear cooperation effort carries political implications because it would help expand the relationship between the world’s two most populous democracies.
Supporters say the accord could generate as much as $100 billion in energy sales for US companies. Opponents say it will undermine the nonproliferation treaty by improperly rewarding a country that never signed.
Now India’s “strengthening relationship with Iran will inevitably be a factor” when Congress votes on a final version of the agreement, the congressional letter said.
The Iranian government said this week that India is intent on concluding a contract to build a natural-gas pipeline via Pakistan. The US wants India to shun the project as a way to isolate Iran for its defiance of UN demands that it halt nuclear enrichment and disclose the extent of a program suspected of being for weapons.
Lantos and the other lawmakers raised concerns in their letter that the project would generate billions of dollars for Iran.
The plan has to clear several more steps. Congress must approve its final wording and India must also reach agreement with the UN nuclear watchdog on a regimen for international inspections. The Nuclear Suppliers Group, a 45-nation forum dedicated to limiting the spread of atomic weapons, must also approve the agreement.