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S. Asia nuclear arms 'legitimate'

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NEW YORK (Reuters) -- The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said on Wednesday the way India and Pakistan had obtained nuclear arms was legitimate, in contrast to Iran which he accused of pursuing atomic weapons in violation of its international undertakings.

While Iran is seeking to conceal development of nuclear weapons under the guise of a legitimate program to generate nuclear power, Bolton said, India and Pakistan "did it legitimately."

His comments, made in response to an audience question following a speech to a meeting of the World Jewish Congress, appeared to go further than the administration of President George W. Bush has previously gone in embracing the two nations' nuclear programs.

They also coincide with a visit by Bush to India in which the United States is offering New Delhi de facto recognition of its nuclear arms program. Bush is due to travel to Pakistan from India.

The United States imposed punitive sanctions on India after it tested a nuclear bomb in 1998. In the same year, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution condemning India and Pakistan for their nuclear weapons tests.

Under a deal India and the United States agreed in principle in July 2005, New Delhi would commit itself to certain international nonproliferation standards including putting its civilian nuclear facilities under international inspection.

In return it would gain access to U.S. civilian nuclear technology, including fuel and reactors, that it was denied for 30 years. India's military facilities would not be subject to inspections under the deal.

At the same time, the U.S. administration is pressing Iran to turn its back on a program to enrich uranium on its own soil, a plan Tehran insists is intended only to produce electric power but which Washington insists aims to develop nuclear bombs.

Bolton noted that neither India nor Pakistan had ever signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, intended to contain the spread of atomic arms, while Iran had done so.

"I give them (India and Pakistan) credit at least that what they did was consistent with the obligations they undertook," Bolton said.

"They never pretended that they had given up the pursuit of nuclear weapons. They never tried to tie what they were doing under a cloak of international legitimacy. They did it openly and they did it legitimately," he said.

The 1998 Security Council resolution called on India and Pakistan to stop all nuclear development programs immediately and urged other states to stop selling either country equipment that could be used in atomic arms.

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