March 2, 2006

India, US seal nuclear agreement

By Steve Holland and Simon Denyer

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India and the United States said on
Thursday they had sealed a landmark civilian nuclear
cooperation pact, the centerpiece of President George W. Bush's
first visit to the world's largest democracy.

"We have concluded an historic agreement today on nuclear
power," Bush told a joint news conference with Indian Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh.

"I am looking forward to working with our United States
Congress to change decades of law that will enable us to move
forward in this important initiative."

The deal, which would give India access to U.S. nuclear
technology to meet its soaring energy needs, has been opposed
by some members of the U.S. Congress because India has not
signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

As Bush met Singh in India, a car bomb killed five people
outside the U.S. consulate and Marriott Hotel in Karachi in
neighboring Pakistan, the country that is next on the itinerary
of Bush's South Asia tour.

Bush said at least one U.S. citizen, a foreign service
officer, was among those killed, but said he would not be put
off from visiting the country, a key ally in his war on terror.

"Terrorists and killers are not going to prevent me from
going to Pakistan," he said.

At least 35 people were wounded in the blast in the
southern port city. Bush is due to hold talks in Pakistan on

He arrived in the Indian capital on Wednesday after a
surprise visit to Afghanistan, where thousands of U.S. troops
are still engaged in hunting down the architects of the
September 11 attacks.


The three-day visit to India was seen as a growing
recognition in Washington of the strategic and economic
significance of India after decades of mistrust between the two

The nuclear cooperation deal was the centerpiece of the
visit and negotiators had worked late into the night on
Wednesday to bridge the "last few gaps" between the two sides,
officials said.

Under the deal, India has agreed to separate its civilian
and military nuclear programs and place the civilian plants
under international inspections.

In return, the United States is offering nuclear technology
and fuel. That would end decades of nuclear isolation for
India, which was placed under international sanctions after
conducting nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998.

The deal, agreed in principle last July when Singh visited
Washington, ran into trouble due to differences over India's
plan to separate its military and civilian atomic plants.

It has also been buffeted by strong opposition from
non-proliferation lobbies in the United States and India's
nuclear establishment which has balked at American interference
in what has been an isolated, indigenous nuclear program.

India has refused to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty calling it discriminatory, leading to its isolation.

India's extensive atomic weapons program to counter
Pakistan and China's nuclear arms is a further concern for some
members of the U.S. Congress, who have cast doubt on the
viability of any deal between Singh and Bush.

Earlier Bush, who told an Indian newspaper last week that
his first memory of India was of freedom-movement leader
Mahatma Gandhi, paid homage at his memorial on the banks of the
Yamuna river in the capital.

Bush removed his shoes as a mark of respect at the memorial
and laid a wreath with wife Laura. Both of them bowed their
heads and threw flower petals on the gleaming marble surface.


While Bush's visit, the fifth by a U.S. president to India,
has drawn a lot of attention across the country of 1.1 billion
people, it has also inflamed passions among communist and
Muslim groups opposed to American policies such as the invasion
of Iraq.

Hours before the U.S. president arrived in India, tens of
thousands of people took to the streets across the country,
burning effigies of Bush, shouting slogans, carrying placards
and bringing traffic to a standstill in a few cities.

Organizers vowed to hold larger protests on Thursday and
police said security had been stepped up in New Delhi to
prevent any trouble.

Commandos with machine guns were seen at major
intersections in the capital at dawn and police asked people to
stay away from the heart of the city due to traffic
restrictions and protests.

"We are taking no chances. After all, he is the president
of USA," a police spokesman said.

(Additional reporting by Y.P. Rajesh, Tabassum Zakaria and
Kamil Zaheer)