Says India needs the strategic programme as China, Pakistan had nuke weapons Feels accord holds tremendous potential for both countries Asserts that ties with U.S. not at the cost of ties with China On Iran, he says India does not want another nuke power in that region

WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh categorically ruled out placing all of India's nuclear reactors under full scope safeguards and reaffirmed commitment to a unilateral moratorium without predicting what the ``distant future'' held.

For global disarmament

``No. We would like the world to move toward universal nuclear disarmament,'' he said in an interview to The Washington Post published on Thursday, when asked if India would ever put all its reactors under full scope safeguards.

Some critics of the Bush administration have said that the United States should have insisted on India placing all its reactors under full scope safeguards for the civilian nuclear energy cooperation between the two countries.

`India needs it'

The Prime Minister said given the circumstances, India needed a strategic nuclear weapons programme. ``In our neighbourhood, China is a nuclear power and on our western frontier there is Pakistan, which developed its weapons through clandestine proliferation.''

Dr. Singh also said that he could not imagine circumstances that would necessitate India to resume its nuclear testing that many here had said was the country's sovereign right.

``Our scientists tell me they need no further tests. As for the distant future, I cannot predict forever, but our commitment is to continue our unilateral moratorium,'' the Prime Minister said.

Describing the U.S. as the `pre-eminent' superpower in the world, Dr. Singh said the ``lack of nuclear cooperation is the last remaining cobweb from our old relationship, and we can now sweep it aside... There are no other barriers to a more productive, more durable relationship with the United States. The potential is enormous for our two nations.''

Ties in India's interest

He said it was in India's interest to have good relations with the U.S. ``as a very important partner in realising our development ambitions.''

Dr. Singh suggested that one way of helping with development and environmental protection was for the U.S. Congress to approve legislative changes that clear the way for that country to provide civilian nuclear technology and supplies to India after a 32-year ban.

The historic nuclear cooperation deal, yet to be approved by the Congress, was finalised during President George W. Bush's visit to New Delhi last month.

Not aimed at China

The Prime Minister maintained that India's relationship with the U.S. was not aimed at China.

"...we are not developing our relationship with the U.S. at the cost of our relationship with China, which is our neighbour and with which our trade is growing at a handsome rate... President Bush told me this is a sensible way to proceed, and that America will remain engaged with China, too,'' he said.

On Iran, Dr. Singh urged Washington to allow time for the maximum scope for dialogue and discussions. ``The Iranian regime may need some time to settle down.''

But, he stressed that ``we are very clear that we do not want another nuclear weapons power in the region.'' PTI