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India shrugs off Bush administration criticism on nuclear fuel

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February 21, 2001 


NEW DELHI-- (AP) - Shrugging off criticism from the United States and Pakistan, India said Tuesday that its key nuclear facility receiving Russian nuclear fuel is in line with international atomic energy norms.

U.S. President George W. Bush's administration accused Russia on Friday of violating its nonproliferation commitments by shipping nuclear fuel to India for use in power reactors. The fuel is meant for India's Tarapur reactors in the western state of Maharashtra.

Foreign ministry spokesman Ramindar Jassal said all fuel imports for Tarapur have always been under the safeguard regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"India has consistently and repeatedly observed these safeguards," Jassal said. "The latest import from Russia is similarly covered, the IAEA having been informed about it."

Russia reportedly began making deliveries earlier this month.

India needs fuel for its 12 existing and 16 planned nuclear power plants. Nuclear power supplies about 3 percent of India's electricity yesterday and is planned to provide 10 percent by 2005.

The government also needs fuel for its atomic weapons program, which it considers necessary for defense in a region where two of its neighbors, Pakistan and China, have nuclear arms.

Pakistan, India's western neighbor and rival of five decades, also slammed the Russian decision, saying it will help New Delhi develop nuclear weapons.

"This fuel will help India in its nuclear weapons capability," foreign ministry spokesman Mohammed Riaz Khan said.

Pakistan was being denied any nuclear equipment, including supplies to keep its nuclear power plants safe, while Russia was helping India's nuclear program, he said.

"It highlights the discriminatory practices of individual states," Khan added.

India carried out five underground nuclear tests in May 1998. Within weeks, Pakistan followed with six nuclear explosion. This gave a lethal face to their five decades of enmity centered on the mountainous frontier province of Kashmir, which both countries claim. India controls two-thirds, Pakistan the rest, and the two countries have fought two wars over the dispute.

U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker had on Friday expressed "deep regret" over the decision, noting that Russia was committed to refrain from nuclear cooperation with any country that does not allow international monitoring of all its nuclear facilities. The United States urged Russia to cancel the supply arrangement.

Although the Tarapur facilities are under IAEA scrutiny, India does not have such safeguards on all such facilities and has been pursuing a nuclear weapons program, Reeker said.

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