NEW DELHI, March 11: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday defended his government’s growing closeness with the United States, highlighted by a nuclear cooperation deal, saying it was in the nation’s best interests.

Singh told parliament the nuclear pact, sealed during President George W. Bush’s visit this month, was vital to boosting energy output to sustain targeted 10 per cent economic growth to fight poverty.

“While doing this deal ... we have not compromised our autonomy with regard to our strategic programme,” Singh said.

“We have not agreed to any formula or any proposal which would amount to a cap on our nuclear (weapons) programme.”

The nuclear deal and India’s warming relations with the United States, after decades of mistrust and suspicion, has been heavily criticised by Singh’s communist allies who underpin his Congress Party-led coalition government.

And some members of the US Congress, which must approve the pact, fear it will lead to nuclear proliferation — India has not signed the non-proliferation treaty — and may boost India’s nuclear weapons programme.

Under the pact, India will receive US nuclear technology in return for separating its military and civil facilities and opening the civilian plants to international inspections.

“The United States is a global power. Their interests will not always converge with India’s interests,” he said.

“But there are opportunities, there are occasions where our interests will converge. And I believe it is the duty of any government of India to take advantage of all those opportunities which widen the development options that become available.”

Singh also said the new relationship between the world’s largest democracies was driven by shared interests and India would still focus on other important partners, including Russia, China and France.

“I wish to assure the honourable house that while we have been working towards strengthened relations with the United States we have not forgotten our traditional strategic partners.

“Our relations with Russia today are warmer, stronger than ever before; our relations with France today are stronger and warmer today; our relations with China are stronger and warmer today,” he said.

The nuclear deal was the most significant of several signed during Bush’s visit, his first to India.—Reuters

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