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By Dana Milbank and Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 19, 2005; Page A01
President Bush agreed yesterday to share civilian nuclear technology with India, reversing decades of U.S. policies designed to discourage countries from developing nuclear weapons.
The agreement between Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which must win the approval of Congress, would create a major exception to the U.S. prohibition of nuclear assistance to any country that doesn't accept international monitoring of all of its nuclear facilities. India has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires such oversight, and conducted its first nuclear detonation in 1974.
Participants in the discussions said there had been debate within the administration about whether the deal with India -- which built its atomic arsenal in secret -- would undercut U.S. efforts to confront Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs. There were also concerns about how the agreement would be accepted in Pakistan, India's regional rival and an ally in the U.S. campaign against al Qaeda.
But supporters of the approach said it was an important part of a White House strategy to accelerate New Delhi's rise as a global power and as a regional counterweight to China. As part of the strategy, the administration is also seeking ways to bolster Japan's posture in the region.
The Bush administration, which had not expected to reach agreement on the matter until a future Bush visit to India, said it moved more quickly because it had secured commitments from New Delhi to limit the spread of nuclear materials and technology. The agreement does not formally recognize India as a nuclear power -- a status India had sought -- but it is a significant plum for the world's most populous democracy and cements India as a key strategic U.S. ally in Asia for the coming decades.
R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, called the agreement "a major move forward for the U.S." and "the high-water mark of U.S.-India relations since 1947." Burns said the agreement, the subject of months of talks and six weeks of intense negotiations, is in line with "efforts that nuclear powers have taken to maintain a responsible policy in terms of nonproliferation."
But some nonproliferation specialists found the deal troubling.
"This is a stunning example of the Bush administration's policy of exceptionalism for friends at the cost of a consistent and effective attack on the dangers of nuclear weapons," said Daryl G. Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association.
According to a White House communique yesterday, Bush agreed that "India should acquire the same benefits and advantages" as other states with advanced nuclear technology. Bush vowed to "work to achieve full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India."
Under the terms of the deal, India agreed to place its civilian nuclear facilities -- but not its nuclear weapons arsenal -- under international monitoring and pledged to continue to honor a ban on nuclear testing. In return, it would have access, for the first time, to conventionalweapons systems and to sensitive U.S. nuclear technology that can be used in either a civilian or a military program. It could also free India to buy the long-sought-after Arrow Missile System developed by Israel with U.S. technology.
The agreement does not call for India to cease production of weapons-grade plutonium, which enables India to expand its nuclear arsenal.
The United States did not offer support for India's drive to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, and the sides did not reach agreement on India's plan for a $4 billion pipeline delivering natural gas from Iran. The administration opposes the deal on grounds that it provides Iran with hard currency it can use for its own nuclear program.
The White House faces two major hurdles to put the deal into effect. One is altering rules in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a consortium of more than 40 countries that controls export of nuclear technology. The group has been unreceptive to previous Bush administration initiatives and will be reluctant to create country-specific rules, said George Perkovich, a nuclear specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The other challenge will be persuading Congress to change the U.S. Nonproliferation Act, which prevents sales of sensitive nuclear technology to countries that refuse monitoring of nuclear facilities.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) condemned the agreement as a "dangerous proposition and bad nonproliferation policy" and said he will introduce legislation to block it. "We cannot play favorites, breaking the rules of the nonproliferation treaty, to favor one nation at the risk of undermining critical international treaties on nuclear weapons," he said in a statement. "What will Russia say when they want to supply more nuclear materials or technology to Iran? You can be sure that Pakistan will demand equal treatment."
Much of the plan was conceived by Robert Blackwill, former ambassador to India and a deputy national security adviser under Condoleezza Rice, along with his close confidant, Ashley J. Tellis, a specialist on U.S.-India relations at Carnegie .
Earlier this year, Tellis laid out a broad vision for India-U.S. relations in a paper titled "India as a New Global Power." It promoted geostrategic cooperation between the two countries rooted strongly in U.S. defense and military sales to India and U.S. support for New Delhi's growing nuclear arsenal.
"If the United States is serious about advancing its geopolitical objectives in Asia, it would almost by definition help New Delhi develop strategic capabilities such that India's nuclear weaponry and associated delivery systems could deter against the growing and utterly more capable nuclear forces Beijing is likely to possess by 2025," he wrote.
The India deal had been opposed by nonproliferation officials in Bush's administration, including John R. Bolton, who was the point man on nuclear issues until March.
Bolton, Bush's nominee to become U.N. ambassador, argued that such cooperation would mean rewarding a country that built a nuclear weapon in secret, using technology it obtained under the guise of civilian power. Both North Korea and Iran are believed to have tried the same route to develop nuclear weapons. Some within the administration said the deal would be damaging at a time when the United States is trying to ratchet up international pressure on both those countries to give up their nuclear-weapons ambitions.
WASHINGTON, July 18 - President Bush, bringing India a step closer to joining the club of nuclear-weapons states, reached an agreement with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to let India secure international help for its civilian nuclear reactors while retaining its nuclear arms.
The agreement, if approved by other nuclear countries and Congress, would remove a ban on civilian nuclear technology sales to India and with it a decades-long source of antagonism between the two countries.
India could obtain nuclear fuel and reactor components from the United States and other countries, and in return would allow international inspections and safeguards on its civilian nuclear program, and refrain from further weapons tests and from transferring arms technology to other countries.
Beyond that, the agreement would bring a significant gain in India's international status: from that of pariah, since it first tested a nuclear weapon in 1974 and refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to something close to acceptance as a nuclear-armed nation.
There was no immediate reaction from Pakistan, which is considered certain to demand similar concessions, and some analysts were concerned that the step would weaken international controls on nuclear arms.
For the Bush administration, the agreement was a major step forward in what has been a campaign since 2001 to improve ties with India, in part as a counterweight to China. That effort was disrupted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and by the American decision to provide military aid to Pakistan, India's longtime rival.
"Because of our shared values, the relationship between our two countries has never been stronger," Mr. Bush said at the White House, before details of the accord were disclosed. "We're working together to make our nations more secure, deliver a better life to our citizens and advance the cause of peace and freedom throughout the world."
Shyam Saran, the Indian foreign secretary, said in an interview: "We are looking at complete removal of the restrictive technology regimes that India has been subjected to for decades. What this agreement says is that we are willing to assume the same responsibilities and practices - no more and no less - as other nuclear states."
It was not immediately clear how difficult it will be for the United States to persuade Congress and major nuclear-armed nations - Britain, France, China and Russia - to go along with this change of status for India.
The basic international program governing such matters has been in place since President Eisenhower proposed an "atoms for peace" project in which countries would voluntarily give up nuclear arms in return for access to nuclear energy components like reactors and fuel, and would submit to international inspection.
The program was codified in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT, which has 187 signatories, including five countries with nuclear weapons. But several major countries, including India, Pakistan and Israel, have refused to sign it.
A senior State Department official, giving a briefing under ground rules in which he could not be identified, said that the Bush administration still hoped India would eventually give up nuclear weapons, and that the administration rebuffed an Indian request to be recognized formally as a nuclear weapons state under the treaty.
"The discussions went through various permutations," he said. "We didn't feel we could somehow formally recognize India as a nuclear state. Ultimately, we hope they will elect to join the NPT."
The official said the United States would continue to press Iran and North Korea to give up their suspected nuclear weapons programs on the grounds that they had signed various agreements and then cheated on them, while India had an "impeccable" record of not sharing its weapons technology with other countries.
But several nuclear weapons experts said in interviews Monday that the main effect of the India accord would be less on Iran, North Korea or even Pakistan - which has admitted to sharing its weapons technology with others - than on the many states that have signed up to the bargain implied by the concept of "atoms for peace." Among the countries that are widely known or thought to be able to produce nuclear weapons, but which have not done so because of their desire to comply with the terms of the nonproliferation treaty, are Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.
The fear is that these countries, seeing the deal offered India, might be tempted to get nuclear arms, especially if the crises over North Korea and Iran spin out of control.
"If you open the door for India, a lot of other countries are likely to step through it," said Leonard S. Spector, deputy director of the Monterey Center for Nonproliferation Studies. "China is already thinking of selling additional reactors to Pakistan."
Such concerns are likely to be raised in Congress, at least among Democrats, despite what appears to be an overall predisposition to improve relations with India.
"Why should the United States sell controlled nuclear goods to India?" asked Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts after announcement of the agreement. "We cannot play favorites, breaking the rules of the nonproliferation treaty to favor one nation at the risk of undermining critical international treaties on nuclear weapons."
The accord with Prime Minister Singh was remarkable in another respect: It comes only a few years after the world was genuinely concerned that it had little leverage with India and Pakistan to pull them back from the brink of nuclear confrontation.
The Bush administration argues that that it makes sense for the world to recognize the reality of India's nuclear weapons status, reinforced when it tested its first bomb in 1974 and then when it did so again in the spring of 1998, a time of heightened tensions with Pakistan.
Pakistan followed suit later that year and then sent forces into Indian-controlled territory in Kashmir, engaging in combat with Indian forces and stirring global fears of a nuclear war.
Since then, India-Pakistan tensions have eased, and the Bush administration has taken a new approach to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, declaring it outdated and in need of revamping. At the same time, the United States went to war citing an Iraqi nuclear threat and has tried to block Iran's and North Korea's suspected nuclear arms programs.
In the past, India and the United States have sought to improve ties, but the efforts have always foundered because of American support for Pakistan. Indian officials say they have decided, at least for now, not to make a big issue of the recent American sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.
Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Singh sought to portray the session between them as marking the best relations since Indian independence in 1947. Their discussions also encompassed help for India's civilian space program, agriculture, business investment and programs to combat AIDS.
"I am happy that the president and I share the common goal of making this one of the principal relations for each of our country," Mr. Singh said. "The president's personal commitment to this relationship is deeply admired by the people of India."
He also said Mr. Bush would visit India before his term in office was completed, but no date was set.
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