Landmark nuclear deal between U.S. and India could "die in Congress"

The landmark nuclear deal between the United States and India could "die in Congress" if New Delhi doesn't back Washington's bid to bring Iran before the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. Ambassador warned. The unusually frank comments by David Mulford, made to the Press Trust of India news agency, came as Washington intensifies efforts to win support for its plan use the security council to pressure Iran to end its nuclear programs.

In an interview with the Indian agency, Mulford on Wednesday was quoted as saying that if India does not vote to refer Tehran to the U.N. Security Council, "the effect on members of the U.S. Congress ... will be devastating." "I think the Congress will simply stop considering" the nuclear pact struck by U.S. President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last year, Mulford said. The deal still needs congressional approval. The pact "will die in the Congress, not because the administration would want it," he said.

Mulford's comments directly linked the nuclear deal and India's stance on Iran, something American and Indian officials have avoided doing in the past. U.S. Embassy spokesman David Kennedy initially confirmed that Mulford was accurately quoted by the agency, saying the ambassador "just wanted to give his honest opinion." But later, the Embassy issued a statement saying Mulford's comments were taken out of context.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Mulford was expressing his own opinion in the remarks, but also that the ambassador was reflecting the "the very strongly-held feelings" in Congress about the Iran issue. The nuclear deal is the cornerstone of an emerging alliance between India and the United States, which are both seeking ways to counterbalance China's growing economic influence in Asia.

Under the pact, Washington would share civilian nuclear technology and supply nuclear fuel to India. New Delhi would separate its tightly entwined civilian and military nuclear programs and allow inspections of civilian atomic facilities. The United States and some European countries fear Iran could develop weapons. Tehran says its nuclear programs are for civilian use only.

Washington wants to bring the issue before the security council, which could authorize sanctions against Tehran. The world's nuclear watchdog will vote on the issue at an emergency board meeting on Feb. 2. Washington believes there are already enough "yes" to refer the issue to the security council.

But it is still seeking support from Russia and China, which have veto powers in the council, and key developing nations such as India, reports the AP. I.L.