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Seems like a pretty good deal to me


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Bush defends nuclear deal with India

By Mark Silva
Published March 2, 2006, 8:15 AM CST

NEW DELHI -- Announcing a "historic" agreement still difficult to sell to the U.S. Congress, President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday approved a sharing of U.S. nuclear technology with a former Cold War adversary now ready to submit much of its nuclear program to international oversight.

India, a fast-growing economic and nuclear power which never has signed an international treaty to prevent the proliferation of atomic weapons, now has agreed to place most of its existing nuclear program under supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency. India also has agreed to submit all future civilian nuclear power generators to permanent IAEA control and to a moratorium on weapons testing.

The agreement is the fruition of eight months of shuttle State Department diplomacy with India that ended only two hours before a joint appearance by Bush and Singh here at a ceremonial meeting place.

"We concluded an historic agreement today on nuclear power,'' said Bush, expressing optimism about the "difficult'' task of convincing Congress. "It's a necessary agreement. It's one that will help both our peoples.''

"We have made history today,'' said Singh, a former finance minister and Oxford-trained economist who is credited for economic policies that have modernized a former colonial nation that long allied with the Soviet Union during the Cold War and has made it a closer ally of the U.S.

The agreement will enable India to keep eight of its 22 reactors in a military program exempt from international oversight, including a fast-breeder reactor capable of producing extensive material for atomic bombs as well as any additional future breeder reactors it deems necessary for its military program.

But the Bush administration maintains that India will have great "incentive" to make as much of its future program as possible a civilian power-generating program as it seeks to greatly expand its capacity for nuclear power. That will enable India to draw financial support and technological expertise from American and other foreign companies. American firms are lobbying Congress for the deal.

The continuation of a robust military program – and a special American exception carved out for India, which never has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that more than 170 other nations have signed since 1970 – will make the deal between Bush and Singh a tough sell in Congress. American law prohibits the U.S. from sharing its nuclear technology with nations that have not signed the treaty or have tested weapons.

"I know there are some detractors on Capitol Hill who have said they will oppose this," said Nicholas Burns, the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs who negotiated the deal. He traveled to India five times in the past eight months and left as recently as Friday frustrated that India was resisting agreement on placing all future civilian reactors under international control.

Negotiations lasted until midnight in New Delhi on Wednesday, resumed at 7 am and concluded only two hours before Bush and Singh stepped outside to announce the deal at 12:30 p.m.

The campaign for congressional approval began immediately, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice making telephone calls from New Delhi to two key congressional leaders responsible for any changes in U.S. law: Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill), chairman of the House International Relations Committee, and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"India is unique," Burns said. "It is soon to be the largest country in the world."

"In the real world," Burns said, the U.S. has a choice of allowing India to continue operating a nuclear program that tested weapons as recently as 1998 in "isolation" from the rest of the world or of gaining control over a significant portion of it. The deal requires India to move 14 of its 22 reactors into permanent international oversight by 2014 and place all future civilian reactors under permanent control.

"The question we faced was, is it better to keep India in isolation or to try to bring it into the international mainstream?" Burns said. "It's not a perfect deal in the sense that we haven't captured 100 percent of India's nuclear program."

Bush, appearing alongside Singh in the sun-splashed, splendid gardens of a ceremonial colonial-era hall, suggested that he can sell the deal to Congress as central to an improving economic and strategic relationship between the two nations. They also have agreed on new economic terms here, including the sale of Indian mangoes to the U.S., Bush noted with some pleasure for a savory fruit.

Changing American law on nuclear energy will be no simple task for a Bush administration already struggling politically, with the president's own job-approval ratings hovering below 40 percent in a midterm congressional election year and much of the president's domestic agenda mired in opposition.

But Bush has voiced an essential optimism here that the nuclear accord is a necessary part of a changing world in which India and the U.S. are becoming increasingly more dependent on one another.

"What this agreement says is, times change," said Bush, acknowledging that "it's difficult for the American president to sell to our Congress, because some people just don't want to change with the times…. I'm trying to think differently, not to stay stuck in the past.

"You know, sometimes it's hard to get rid of history, and short-term history shows that the United States and India were divided," Bush said. "The relationship is changing dramatically… Part of that change is going to be how to deal with the nuclear issue."

For India, with more than one billion people and bound to become the world's most populous nation, experts say expansion of nuclear power is an economic necessity. The nation imports three quarters of its oil, natural gas and coal and draws only 3 percent of its power from nuclear energy.

For the U.S., Bush says, encouraging alternatives to oil and natural gas for energy in a fast-growing nation such as India should prevent energy costs from growing worse than they already are.

Critics complain that the U.S. should not reward "bad behavior" on the part of nations such as India, which have long flouted the international nonproliferation treaty. They say this paves the way for other nations to complain that the U.S. is treating one nuclear power different from others.

But Bush maintains that this deal is tailored to India, which has of its own accord never engaged in proliferation of nuclear weapons with other nations, and that the U.S. is not even close to considering such an arrangement for other nations, such as Pakistan. Pakistan tested its first nuclear weaponry in 1998 and has shared its nuclear technology with several threatening nations such as Libya and Iran.

The president's meetings and negotiations here have played out in the serene tropical environment of gardened preserves, including a ceremonial hall that once served as home to a wealthy Indian Maharaj.

In other parts of New Delhi, protestors assembled. More than 50,000 gathered at a demonstration organized by left-wing political parties. They carried placards in opposition to Bush as speaker after speaker condemned Bush's polices in Iraq, Iran and Palestine and his support for the World Trade Organization.

Among them: A 52-year-old farmer, Som Dutt, who had traveled from Haryana. "We don't want a rich country like America to come and dictate terms to us," he said. "We will do what we want. We do not want to be another Iraq. India should oppose Bush and not support him."

Bush will head to Pakistan on Friday night for a day of meetings with President Pervez Musharraf, a visit to the U.S. embassy in Islamabad and time to take in a cricket match at the embassy.

The president said his plans to visit Islamabad will not be deterred by bombings Thursday in the coastal city of Karachi that claimed the life of one U.S. foreign service officer and others. Bush had planned to spend only part of Saturday in Pakistan, ending with a state dinner in Islamabad, but the White House has announced that he will move on to Pakistan after a speech in New Delhi on Friday evening.

"Terrorists and killers are not going to prevent me from going to Pakistan," Bush said. "The bombing that took place prior to my trip is an indication that… the war on terror goes on, and that free nations must come together to fight terrorism."
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