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India test-launches nuclear-capable missile, takes no heat
NEW DELHI -- India launched the maiden test flight Thursday of its longest-range nuclear-capable missile.
The missile called Agni, which means "fire" in Hindi, is the most advanced missile so far, according to officials.
It can travel the equivalent of 3,100 miles.
India's launch experts say it is a defensive tool that will be used as a deterrent against Pakistan and China.
NEW DELHI -- India's successful test of a powerful new missile that can carry nuclear weapons to Beijing caused barely a ripple - even in China - just days after North Korea was globally vilified for a failed rocket launch.
The vastly different responses show the world has grown to accept India as a responsible and stable nuclear power, while shunning North Korea as a pariah.
"It's not the spear, but who holds the spear that matters," said Rahul Bedi, a defense analyst in India. "North Korea is a condemned nation. It's a pariah country. Its record of breaking nuclear agreements is well known. India has emerged in that sense as a fairly responsible country."
The muted response to Thursday morning's test underscores how far India has come in gaining acceptance for its nuclear program. After India tested its first nuclear bomb in 1974, the U.S. put it under sanctions for a quarter century.
But last decade, the U.S. removed the sanctions and eventually ratified in 2008 a landmark deal to allow civilian nuclear trade that effectively accepted India as a nuclear nation.
India hailed its test of the Agni-V missile as a significant step forward in its aspirations to become a regional and world power.
"The nation stands tall today," Defense Minister A.K. Antony said, according to the Press Trust of India.
The missile, with a range of 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles), still requires a battery of tests and must clear other bureaucratic hurdles before it can be inducted into India's arsenal in a few years.
The differences between the two launches were clear before they even got under way.
North Korea insisted its rocket launch on Sunday was merely part of a civilian space program aimed at putting an observation satellite into orbit. The U.S. and other countries called it a thin excuse to test technology for firing a long-range missile fitted with a nuclear warhead. The launch failed when the rocket broke apart soon after takeoff.
The condemnation of North Korea's launch was swift. The United States canceled a plan to send food aid and the U.N. Security Council announced it would impose new sanctions.
India was clear from the start that it was testing a nuclear-capable missile that could reach major Chinese cities.
The government hailed it as a success, releasing video showing the Agni-V taking off from a small launcher on what appeared to be railroad tracks at 8:07 a.m. from Wheeler Island off India's east coast. It rose in a pillar of flame, trailing billows of smoke behind, before arcing through the sky.
The missile hit an altitude of more than 600 kilometers (370 miles), its three stages worked properly and its payload was deployed as planned, the head of India's Defense Research and Development Organization, Vijay Saraswat, told Times Now news channel.
"India has emerged from this launch as a major missile power," he said.
India had joined the small club of nations able to develop and build long-range ballistic missiles, he said.
Yet officials said the missile test should not be seen as a threat because India has a no-first-use policy and its missiles were used only for deterrence.
International concerns were muted.
China, with the most at stake from the launch, declined to discuss it. Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said only that India and China should work together as strategic partners and "grasp opportunities to further develop relations."
Even archrival Pakistan, already in range of India's less advanced missiles, showed no concern, with foreign office spokesman Mozzam Ahmed Khan saying only that India had informed it of the test ahead of time in line with an agreement they have.
Before the launch, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in Washington that the United States urges all nuclear-capable states to exercise restraint regarding nuclear capabilities.
"That said, India has a solid nonproliferation record," he told a news briefing. "They're engaged with the international community on nonproliferation issues."
That, analysts say, is the major difference.
North Korea has been banned by the U.N. from testing missiles and has been accused of selling missile and nuclear technology to other states.
India never signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty so is not in violation of it, Bedi said. The U.S. deal that accepted it as a nuclear power has been buttressed by its record of not giving weapons to other states.
"There's a certain amount of acceptability of India," he said. "In that sense, I think India has crossed a certain milestone."
C. Uday Bhaskar, the former head of the Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses, said there is no need for global concern over India's rising power.
"India is a force that contributes to global stability, so enhancing India's profile is good for the world," he said. "I don't think you could say the same for North Korea."
China remains far ahead of India in the missile race, with intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching anywhere in India. Currently, the longest-range Indian missile, the Agni-III, has a range of 3,500 kilometers (2,100 miles) and falls short of many major Chinese cities.
Though there was no official Chinese reaction to the test, the Global Times, a newspaper published by the Communist Party's official mouthpiece, the People's Daily, warned India not to get arrogant and overestimate its strength.
"India should be clear that China's nuclear power is stronger and more reliable. For the foreseeable future, India would stand no chance in an overall arms race with China," it said in an editorial.
Tuesday, May 1 2012, 02:34 PM EDT
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