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India a step closer to nuclear trade

The Nuclear Suppliers Group agreed Saturday to lift a 34-year ban on selling nuclear technology to India, even though it hasn't signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 8, 2008

Win: India's Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee (c.) spoke in New Delhi Saturday after the US and India convinced wary members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to approve their nuclear deal.

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New Delhi

Saturday's news that the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) had approved India for civilian nuclear trade was heralded as a watershed moment in the country, with nonstop television coverage and breathless headlines: "India No More N-Pariah."

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The decision to open India to nuclear trade – despite the fact that it has a military nuclear program in violation of international codes – faced stiff opposition during NSG talks this weekend in Vienna. But for the US and India, who have been pushing the deal, the accord is expected to boost the two countries' ties and help India meet its growing demand for energy.

What means most to the Indians who support the controversial deal is that one of the world's most exclusive clubs decided to give India a membership card.

"It is psychologically important," says K. Subrahmanyam, a former member of the National Security Council Advisory Board. "India has been recognized as a power not to be subjected to a discriminating regime."

A widespread feeling in India is that the country has been unfairly punished for harboring ambitions no different from that of any other nation of the nuclear club. Its only mistake, the thinking goes, is that it came to the table too late. In fact, the NSG, which regulates nuclear commerce, was formed in response to India's first nuclear test in 1974.

To many Indians, then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's decision to test a nuclear weapon was the fulfillment of India's destiny, at last taking the nation into the exclusive company that its population and millenniums-old history demanded. To many in the international community, however, it marked India's attempt to crash the global order.

Now, India has done it, and for some it is a moment for celebration. "It should have been done a long time ago," says Mr. Subrahmanyam.

In winning NSG approval Saturday, India has succeeded where no other country had before: presented itself before the international community's nuclear arbiters as a faithful steward of the world's most dangerous secrets. After days of complex negotiations, the 45 nations of the NSG decided that – even at a time when Iran and North Korea are considering the same path India took in 1974 – they trusted India.

"It is a recognition that India has been a responsible nuclear power," says Subrahmanyam. "The rise of India as a power has not been seen as threatening the rest of the world."

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