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Nuclear pact concedes India's power


Published: Fri, March 3, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


India has tested nuclear weapons as recently as 1998.
CHICAGO TRIBUNE
NEW DELHI, India -- In securing a "historic" nuclear agreement with India, President Bush is attempting to convince Americans that recognizing the common interests of the once-conflicting nations is crucial to the futures of both -- including the need to relieve the pressure that the price of gasoline is placing on the American economy.
India, a nation with which the United States has had frosty relations for decades, now is emerging as not only a potential counterweight to the growing influence of China but also as an economic power whose embrace of nuclear energy could ease the upward pressure on oil prices. The Bush administration will pursue that argument in its case to persuade Congress to approve the pact signed Thursday by Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Far-reaching issue
The controversy over civilian nuclear power generation and the potential for a continuing nuclear weapons buildup in India, a 1 billion-strong democracy soon to become the world's most populous nation, reaches beyond the atomic bomb. It reaches into global economics and the balance of power.
"You know, sometimes it's hard to get rid of history," said Bush, standing alongside Singh after their agreement in a palatial hall that is a vestige of India's colonial past. "Short-term history shows that the United States and India were divided," he said. "The relationship is changing dramatically. ... Part of that change is going to be how to deal with the nuclear issue."
Key figures in Congress are reacting cautiously, while more outspoken critics accuse the administration of acceding to the self-interest of a nation that tested nuclear weapons as recently as 1998, never has signed an international treaty against proliferation of nuclear weapons and has secured a deal with the United States that will enable it to continue to develop an arsenal as it sees fit. The agreement allows India to obtain nuclear reactors, fuel and expertise from the United States.
Permanent supervision
In return, India has agreed to submit all its future civilian nuclear power generators to the permanent supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency and to a moratorium on weapons testing. Yet the Bush administration still has allowed India great latitude to decide what it needs to keep separate for its military program -- including "fast-breeder" reactors that are prolific suppliers of materials for bombs.
"The deal appears to give India complete freedom not just to continue but also to expand its production of fissile material for nuclear weapons," said Robert Einhorn, senior analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and an expert on nuclear proliferation. "In the future, any reactor it designates as 'military' can be used for the weapons program. ... It's less clear what the U.S. got out of the deal."
The controversial agreement is the fruition of eight months of shuttle diplomacy with India that ended just two hours before a joint appearance by Bush and Singh.
"We concluded an historic agreement today," said Bush, expressing optimism about the "difficult" task of persuading Congress to approve it. "It's a necessary agreement. It's one that will help both our peoples."


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