The U.S. ambassador to India on Wednesday congratulated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for winning a vote of confidence in Parliament and predicted the victory will lead to the approval of a landmark nuclear energy deal between the United States and India.
"We're delighted this has taken place, and we're organizing ourselves to stand ready to move ahead with the final steps of completing the civil nuclear initiative," Ambassador David Mulford told reporters in New Delhi.
"The U.S. has been ready and is now geared up. We are actively on our way."
He added that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee to discuss the next steps in providing India with vital nuclear power to help meet its increasing energy demands. Power blackouts are common in major cities where businesses must buy expensive backup electrical generators.
Mr. Singh was forced to seek a vote of confidence Tuesday after communist parties denounced the nuclear deal as an attempt to move India closer to Washington and withdrew support for his government.
Mr. Mulford urged the Singh government to move quickly to finalize the deal, which also must be approved by the U.S. Congress before it adjourns in the fall. India must sign an agreement with the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency to allow inspections of its nuclear power plants and obtain a waiver from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers' Group, which regulates nuclear technology sales but bans trade with countries like India that have declined to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"The time frame we're working to is clear," the ambassador said. "If all those things can be accomplished, then we have some chance that Congress may be able to act on this legislation prior to its final adjournment."
The deal, proposed in 2005, does not apply to India's nuclear weapons program.
Groundbreaking on a controversial natural gas pipeline to run from Iran to India will move forward despite U.S. opposition, a former Indian ambassador to the United States predicted Wednesday.
Naresh Chandra, ambassador in Washington from 1996 to 2001, said the price Iran demands for its energy is among the issues holding up a final agreement on the $7.5 million pipeline that will run from Iran to India through Pakistan.
"The U.S. will exert pressure, but India will push ahead with the deal," Mr. Chandra told United Press International in New Delhi.
"More than U.S. pressure, it is the exorbitant pricing by Iran and the issue of India's demand of delivery of gas at the [India-Pakistan] border which is deferring further movement on the deal."
The project, originally conceived in 1989, ran into a major setback in 2006 when Iran proposed a price of $7.20 per million British thermal units (Btu). India, which had offered $4.20 per Btu, complained that Iran's demand was 50 percent higher than the prevailing market price at the time. A year later, Iran accepted a price of $4.93 per Btu, but technical issues over price adjustments remain an obstacle.
Indian and Pakistani officials are expected to travel to Iran next week for more talks.
The United States opposes the project because it fears the pipeline would undermine international sanctions against Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons program.
India, which used 33 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 2005, is expected to require more than 145 billion cubic meters of gas by 2025.
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