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Thursday, August 31, 2006

India names special envoy for U.S. nuclear deal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India named its outgoing foreign secretary on Thursday as special envoy for negotiations with the United States over a controversial civilian nuclear cooperation deal that is yet to be approved by the U.S. Congress.

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, a career diplomat who heads the foreign ministry and has led talks with Washington over the deal, will take over as special envoy after his retirement from his current post on September 30, a government statement said.

The Indian envoy to Pakistan, Shiv Shankar Menon, will succeed Saran as the next foreign secretary, said the statement from the prime minister's office.

The landmark India-U.S. nuclear deal aims to overturn three decades of sanctions against New Delhi and supply atomic fuel and equipment to help meet its soaring energy needs.

The deal has been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, while the Senate is due to vote on it next month.

It then needs to be jointly approved by the two houses and also get the backing of the Nuclear Suppliers Group of nations that regulate global atomic trade.

Nuclear non-proliferation activists in the U.S. and their supporters in Congress have been critical of the deal saying it encourages arms proliferation by India which has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Some Congressmen have sought to introduce changes to the deal before they approve it but New Delhi has warned Washington that tinkering with the pact could destroy it.

The deal has also run into criticism in India with political groups and nuclear scientists accusing Washington of trying to shift the parameters of the deal and curb New Delhi's atomic weapons program.

But Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sought to allay those fears by reaffirming that his government would not accept any changes to the deal, agreed in principle in July 2005.

Singh's statements this month had reassured the nuclear establishment, India's top nuclear scientist said.

"We had concerns with both the House bill and the Senate bill," Anil Kakodkar, head of the Department of Atomic Energy, told reporters in Mumbai. "That is why the prime minister made the statement.

"This will clear many things and address the concerns raised," he said.
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