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  India, US discuss terrorism, nuclear deal

AFP | July 17, 2006

US President George W. Bush passed a personal message of sympathy to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday as they discussed train bombings in India and efforts to ratify a controversial nuclear deal.

Bush, who called Singh "one of the really true gentlemen" on the world stage, told him: "I know you've been through difficult times, and America mourns the loss of innocent life as a result of the terrorist attacks."

The prime minister thanked the president for US offers of support after the July 11 bombings that tore through Mumbai's commuter railway, leaving 182 dead and nearly 900 wounded in the worst such attack in India in 13 years.

"I'm grateful to you. You gave me help from Germany, and I deeply appreciate your generosity. Your kindness, your sympathy and support mean a great deal to me," Singh said as they met on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit.

The two leaders did not publicly discuss sharp exchanges between Pakistan and India in the blasts' wake. New Delhi has suggested the bombers had support from across the border, a claim denied by Islamabad.

But they did address efforts to win approval from lawmakers in their respective countries for the hotly debated nuclear cooperation pact they agreed to in July last year.

"Our congress is working on that important piece of legislation that will encourage and allow India and US cooperation, and I'm optimistic that we will get that passed," said Bush, who called the accord "that wonderful deal."

Singh thanked Bush for his efforts to get the necessary legislation "moving through the Congress" and explained that there were concerns among Indian lawmakers too, saying: "We have a parliament which is very jealous of what we do and what we don't do."

The two leaders met on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit of industrialized nations.

The G8 and and five key emerging economies, including India, later issued a statement condemning the Mumbai attacks as "barbaric terrorist acts" and calling for those responsible to be brought to justice.

The nuclear pact won quick approval from the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House International Relations Committee last month, boosting its chances of garnering floor votes in the full chambers.

Officials have been tinkering with the final bill, however, with opponents arguing that it does not include sufficient safeguards to prevent India from applying nuclear technology and material to military use.

Under the deal, the United States will aid the development of civilian nuclear power in India in return for New Delhi placing some of its nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency inspections.

The US Atomic Energy Act of 1954 currently prevents the United States from trading nuclear technology with nations that have not signed up to the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. The law has to be amended for the India deal to be effective.

India tested nuclear weapons in 1974 and 1998 and, as a result, is currently banned by the United States and other major powers from buying fuel for atomic reactors and other related equipment.

On another front, Bush said that a G8 statement on the crisis in the Middle East would help bring "calm" to the region by tackling the "root causes" of violence.

Although the statement by the Group of Eight industrialized nations on the crisis does not explicitly blame Iran or Syria for the latest escalation, Bush accused them of helping Lebanon's Hezbollah Shiite militia group attack Israel.

"Hezbollah, that's housed and encouraged by Syria, financed by Iran, are making these moves to stop the progress of peace," Bush said. "We would hope that by addressing the conditions of this violence we could get to a situation where there was calm."



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