Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reached an historic accord earlier this week with President Bush that will allow his country to buy billions of dollars worth of military hardware and sensitive nuclear technology long denied because of India's nuclear weapons program.
The broad agreement is a significant victory for the world's largest democracy, which built its nuclear program in secret in the early 1970s, and it cements New Delhi's role as a key strategic U.S. ally in Asia for decades to come.
In a wide-ranging breakfast interview with Washington Post editors and writers Wednesday, Singh discussed the impact of the deal for India and it's nuclear program. He also spoke about other issues facing his country, including relations with rival Pakistan, terrorism, regional security and the India's growing economic prowess.
Here are some excerpts from that interview:
Washington Post: With the new special relationship between the United States and India, do you think that your country can use this new relationship in helping the United States on relations with Iran?
Singh: We are entirely one with the rest of the world, that countries which take solemn international obligations, that they must honor those obligations. So we would like Iran, for example, to honor its obligations. . . . Our interest would be to work with other like-minded countries that a constructive solution can be found for the problems that Iran is expressing, that the world community is expressing about Iran. We have strong civilizational links with Iran. Also I would say Iran is the largest Shia Muslim country in the world. We have the second largest Shia Muslim population in our country . . . and I do believe that part of our unique history we can be a bridge.
Washington Post: Can you discuss India's discussions with building a gas pipeline with Iran?
Singh: As far as the pipeline is concerned, only preliminary discussions have taken place. We are terribly short of our energy supply and we desperately need new sources of energy. And that's why with Pakistan we have agreed to explore the possibility of the pipeline. But I am realistic enough to realize that there are many risks, because considering all the uncertainties of the situation there in Iran. I don't know if any international consortium of bankers would probably underwrite this. But we are in a state of preliminary negotiations, and the background of this is we desperately need the supply of gas that Iran has.
Washington Post: Following the announcement of the proposed nuclear technology agreement with the United States, can you discuss the issue of nuclear proliferation? Many people in the United States are concerned about this.
Singh: . . . Our peaceful nuclear program . . . was not built up by stealing other people's technology.
We had this dream that it was better to work toward a world free of nuclear weapons and we had this dream of universal nuclear disarmament. . . . We have been proved wrong and the result is we have seen in our neighborhood reckless proliferation in disregard of all the international obligations. But although we have nuclear assets, our program is totally under civilian control. We are a democracy, there are enough checks and balances in our country and we have an impeccable record of not contributing in any way to nuclear proliferation. . . .
Washington Post: If Pakistan asks for a similar agreement, do you expect the United States to say no?
Singh: Well, that's a decision the United States has to make, but quite frankly, the state of Pakistan currently -- I wish President Musharraf well, we want to work with him to bring greater balance in our own relations. But I have to be realistic enough to recognize the role that terrorist elements have played in the last few years in the history of Pakistan. Taliban was the creation of Pakistan extremists, the Wahabi Islam which has flourished, thousands and thousands of schools, the madrassas, were set up to preach this jihad based on hatred of other religions . . . and Pakistan is not a democracy in the sense that we know and you know. . . . We wish Pakistan success in emerging as a moderate Muslim state. We will work with President Musharraf . . . but we have to recognize what has happened.