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U.S.-India Nuclear Deal on Course Ahead of President Bush Visit

BY Admin  February 24, 2006 at 5:30 PM EDT

The statement read, according to Reuters, ”The two sides had detailed and productive discussions.”

“There was greater clarity on the issues under discussion.”

President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed the civilian nuclear deal, aimed at strengthening growing ties between the United States and its South Asian ally, during a summit in July 2005.

The deal reverses more than 25 years of U.S. policy toward its one-time foe and lifts a global ban preventing India from receiving nuclear supplies from outside countries.

The deal would give India access to U.S. nuclear technology, including fuel and reactors, but requires the country to begin separating its civilian and military nuclear activities — currently conducted at the same facilities — and open them to international inspection.

The latter stipulation, which U.S. officials have insisted upon before moving the deal forward, presents a major hurdle to the negotiations. Indian officials, including members of parliament and two of the country’s former nuclear chiefs, reject the notion of the U.S. interfering in Indian policy.

“It will be an autonomous Indian decision as to what is ‘civilian’ and what is ‘military,’” Singh told his parliament, according to a Feb. 13 report in the International Herald Tribune.

Detractors in both countries have come out strongly against the proposed energy partnership. Some in India see the deal as a backdoor attempt to build an alliance against China’s emerging domination in Asia.

In the United States, some critics call the measure hypocritical, citing America’s ongoing feud with Iran, a country with no proven nuclear history, but one the United States denies has the right to a civilian nuclear program.

Others say a deal with India, a non-signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, could hurt nonproliferation efforts.

“By signing the joint declaration as U.S. policy, the Bush administration has weakened the basic and long-held nonproliferation principle that a legal commitment to forswear nuclear weapons should be a precondition for countries seeking assistance in building civilian nuclear reactors,” a group of experts at the Arms Control Association wrote in October 2005.

“It has overturned a 27-year effort to making full-scope safeguards a condition of nuclear cooperation with non-nuclear-weapon states into a universal international norm.”

Fears that India could use the technology provided by the United States to further its military program also exist. The two countries enjoy an historically tumultuous nuclear relationship.

In 1974, after the United States supplied India with two light-water reactors under a peaceful agreement, the Asian nation detonated a nuclear bomb in the Indian Ocean, calling it a “peaceful” nuclear test.

Partly as a result of the India test, the United States enacted the 1978 Nonproliferation Act, requiring countries to open their nuclear activities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency in order to receive U.S. nuclear exports. India refused and again in 1998 conducted more weapons tests sparking the United States to impose economic and financial sanctions, the Arms Control Association reported.

Since then, the two countries have relaxed tensions and enjoy growing trade relations.

U.S. Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, who met with India’s Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran in New Delhi made no comments Friday about the deal, but ahead of the talks said, “President Bush and Prime Minister Singh have really given a clear signal, they both want to have this agreement done,” Reuters reported.

Any announcement would likely come from President Bush and Singh when the president visits India next week.

In an interview with the Times of India published Friday, President Bush said he hoped to finalize the deal during his trip and get Congress to approve it upon his return.

“First things first is to go to India and hopefully reach an agreement on separation, and then bring that agreement back and start selling it to the Congress,” he said, according to Reuters.

The U.S. Congress and the Nuclear Supplier Group, a 44-nation group of nuclear suppliers that monitors exports, must first approve the deal in order for it to proceed.