Indo-Russian Space Deal Draws US Ire

POLITICIANS here rarely hesitate to denounce the United States whenever its behavior can be even remotely construed as impinging on India's sovereignty.

And in the controversy over a planned $250 million missile-technology transaction between India and Russia - which the US is working to scuttle - the Russians have joined in the criticism.

Vladimir Grachov, a senior Russian diplomat in New Delhi, says relations between the three countries "should be an equal-sided triangle, not one where one of the corners should dictate what the other sides should do."

The Indian critique is a little more strident.

"Who ... are the Americans to say they will have missiles and nobody else will?" asks S. K. Singh, a former Indian foreign secretary.

India says its space agency is purchasing rocket technology from a Russian space agency, Glavkosmos, in order to put commercial satellites into orbit. But after the deal was signed last year, the US began to express its concern that the technology also could produce ballistic missiles.

Neither India nor Russia are members of the Missile Technology Control Regime, an international agreement against the spread of rockets capable of delivering nuclear warheads, but Russia has agreed to abide by MTCR guidelines. The US is now investigating whether the Indo-Russian deal violates the MTCR, and whether the US should seek sanctions on the space agencies.

Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Gennadi Burbulis, in New Delhi this week, confused the issue by first insisting that the deal would go through in spite of US objections, and then by saying it should be cleared by "international neutral expertise."

To Jeffrey Murray, US Embassy spokesman in New Delhi, neutral expertise refers to the 18 member countries of the MTCR.

"I'm not sure what the Russians are going to do," Mr. Murray says. "I'm not sure you could say the Indians have an ally, regardless of the public rhetoric."

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