Nuclear deal with India wins U.S. Senate backing

Posted in India | 17-Nov-06 | Author: Thom Shanker| Source: International Herald Tribune

US President George W. Bush (right) and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

WASHINGTON: The U.S. Senate gave overwhelming approval late Thursday to President George W. Bush's deal for nuclear cooperation with India, a vote expressing that a goal of nurturing India as an ally outweighed concerns over the risks of spreading nuclear skills and bomb-making materials.

By a vote of 85 to 12, senators agreed to a program that would allow the United States to send nuclear fuel and technology to India, which has refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The agreement, negotiated by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India in March, calls for the United States to end a long moratorium on sales of nuclear fuel and reactor components. For its part, India would divide its reactor facilities into civilian and military nuclear programs, with civilian facilities open to international inspections.

Critics have been unwavering in arguing that the pact would rally nations like North Korea and Iran to press ahead with nuclear weapons programs despite international complaints and threats. Opponents of the measure also warned that the deal would allow India to build more bombs with its limited stockpile of radioactive material, and could spur a regional nuclear arms race with Pakistan and China.

Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Indiana Republican who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, hailed the measure's passage as "one more important step toward a vibrant and exciting relationship between our two great democracies."

His endorsement was significant, coming from a senator respected for efforts in nonproliferation and whose name is part of a sweeping program to secure nuclear bomb-making materials in the former Soviet Union. He also expressed "thanks for a truly bipartisan effort" to Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Delaware Democrat set to become Foreign Relations chairman in the new Congress.

While advocates of the measure said it would be an incentive for India to refrain from nuclear tests, denunciations came quickly from a minority of senators who opposed it, as well as from critics in the House.

"It is a sad day for U.S. national security when the Senate passes a sweeping exemption to our nonproliferation laws that will allow India to increase its annual bomb-production capacity from 7 to over 40 bombs a year," said Representative Edward J. Markey, co-chairman of the House Bipartisan Taskforce on Nonproliferation. He said the measure "sends the wrong signal at a time when the world is trying to prevent Iran from getting the bomb."

After the vote, the White House issued a statement from President Bush praising passage of the bill.

"The United States and India enjoy a strategic partnership based upon common values," the statement said. "The U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation agreement will bring India into the international nuclear nonproliferation mainstream and will increase the transparency of India's entire civilian nuclear program."

The Senate rejected several amendments that sponsors said would clarify or narrow the deal, including one that would have required India to halt all military relations with Iran. The legislation, as passed, does contain a new provision that requires the president to declare that India has joined multinational efforts to contain Iran's nuclear program before the United States-India nuclear deal moves forward.

The Senate legislation now must be matched to the House version, which passed in July by a vote of 359 to 68; both chambers then must approve the final language. Even with Senate approval, the package will not move forward until both houses agree to specifics of a nuclear-cooperation accord with India. A complementary deal between India and the International Atomic Energy Agency also must be reached.

When the plan was announced, India pledged to classify 14 of its 22 nuclear reactors as civilian facilities. That would put those reactors under international inspections for the first time. But other reactors would remain under Indian military jurisdiction, and not open to inspectors.

After India and Pakistan conducted surprise nuclear tests about eight years ago, the Clinton administration imposed economic sanctions on both countries. But the Bush administration's effort to enlist allies for its global antiterrorism campaign brought an end to those sanctions.