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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh mounted a strong defense of a controversial nuclear energy deal with the United States on Monday, saying it was crucial for the country’s prosperity.The historic deal, seen as the cornerstone of a new friendship between New Delhi and Washington, has drawn criticism from across the political spectrum and raised fears it could destabilize Singh’s coalition.

 

Critics say the deal is unfair, compromises India’s nuclear sovereignty, and forces it to accept U.S. influence over foreign and strategic policies.

But Singh, in a speech in parliament that was drowned out by the din of opposition protests, said he had redeemed a pledge to secure the best agreement. The pact finalized last month was “good for India, and good for the world,” he declared.

“I am neither given to exaggeration, nor am I known to be self-congratulatory,” Singh said reading from a text. “I will let history judge. I will let posterity judge the value of what we have done through this agreement.

“When future generations look back, they will come to acknowledge the significance of this historic deal,” he said. “It is another step in our journey to regain our due place in global councils.”

The nuclear deal aims to give India access to U.S. nuclear fuel and equipment for the first time in 30 years to help meet its soaring energy needs, even though it has stayed out of non proliferation pacts and tested nuclear weapons.

First agreed in principle two years ago, the framework deal was approved by the U.S. Congress last December and the pact that governs nuclear trade between the two, called the 123 agreement, was finalized last month.

The 123 agreement has to get the backing of the U.S. Congress after India secures other international approvals.

Critics in both countries say their governments are making too many compromises in their eagerness to seal it.

On Monday, noisy protests erupted in the lower house of parliament hours before Singh’s statement, forcing the chambers to be adjourned briefly.

Opposition lawmakers again trooped to the center of the house as Singh began speaking, raising their fists in the air and shouting: “Scrap the nuclear deal”; “It’s a fraud, it’s a fraud” and “We don’t want to become American stooges”.

But Singh continued to read his statement in defiance of the protests, saying there was nothing in the deal that infringed upon India’s independence.

Last week, he dared the government’s communist allies, whose support is crucial for the survival of his coalition, to withdraw support after they had rejected the deal and asked him to scrap it.

Singh said the pact gave India rights to reprocess used nuclear fuel, did not require regular American certification, did not hurt the military nuclear program and ensured permanent fuel supplies.

While India remained committed to its unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing, announced after its tests in 1998, a decision to break that and conduct a test would be “our sovereign decision”, he said.

He also rejected contentions that the deal would allow Washington to influence Indian foreign policy.

“There is no question that we will ever compromise, in any manner, our independent foreign policy,” Singh said. “India is too large and too important a country to have the independence of its foreign policy taken away by any power.”

     
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