India has ‘sovereign right’ to nuke tests

India has ‘sovereign right’ to nuke tests

India hasn’t given up the “sovereign right" to future nuclear tests by entering into a civilian nuclear agreement with the US, external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee said.

The text of the accord doesn’t contain any reference to restrictions imposed on India’s military options, Mukherjee told the Lok Sabha on Thursday after reports quoted a US state department spokesman saying that the US will call off the agreement if India were to conduct nuclear tests.

“India has the sovereign right to test and would do so if it is necessary in national interest. The only restraint is our voluntary unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing, declared by the previous (NDA) government and being continued by the successor government," Mukherjee said in his brief statement.

“There is nothing in the bilateral agreement that would tie the hands of a future government or legally constrain its options. A decision to undertake a future nuclear test would be India’s sovereign decision, resting solely with the government of India", he said amid noisy protests by Opposition members and a walkout by the government’s Left allies.

The statement failed to pacify Opposition members who accused Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of misleading Parliament about the controversial deal.

Similar scenes were witnessed in the Rajya Sabha. “Stop speaking lies. Stop selling the country and save India," shouted MPs as they demanded Singh’s resignation.

Uproar in both the Houses forced their adjournment for the day. Later, main Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said it would settle for nothing less than a thorough discussion and voting in Parliament on the nuclear deal.

The BJP moved a notice of breach of privilege against the Prime Minister in both Houses over his statement in Parliament on the pact following Washington’s assertion that it would be terminated if India conducted a nuclear test.

Senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha rejected Mukherjee’s statement on the pact as a brazen attempt to mislead the country about the deal’s impact on India’s nuclear programmes.

Meanwhile, in Melbourne, Australian Prime Minister John Howard called Manmohan Singh on Thursday to convey his government’s decision to sell uranium to India.

The two leaders agreed that the matter would be discussed at the official level, an external affairs ministry statement said.

The National Security Committee of the Australian cabinet agreed on Tuesday to allow conditional uranium shipments to India despite it not signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Howard noted that India was an “influential regional power and a potential strategic partner for Australia." Australia’s growing trade and security ties with India was another factor to be taken into account.

Howard said the relationship between India and Australia was a vital one which would grow strongly in the future.

“India’s energy needs will increase sharply, and as a major supplier of uranium, it has always seemed to us, a logical thing to export uranium to India provided India agreed to stringent conditions," he said.

The go-ahead from the Aussie government comes in the face of strong criticism from the Opposition Labour Party in Parliament against Howard after India reiterated that the Indo-US civil nuclear deal will not come in the way of its right to conduct nuclear tests in future.