March 2, 2006

India, US seal nuclear deal

By Steve Holland and Simon Denyer

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

The pact marks a major breakthrough for New Delhi, long
treated as a nuclear pariah by the world, as it allows it to
access American atomic technology and fuel to meet its soaring
energy needs -- provided U.S. Congress gives its approval.

It is also expected to allow atomic trade between India and
other nuclear powers if the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an
informal group of nations that controls global nuclear
transactions, follows suit by lifting curbs on New Delhi.

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

"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," he said.

"What this agreement says is things change, times change
... this agreement is in our interest and therefore I am
confident we can sell this to our Congress."

While the leaders celebrated the deal in the capital,
protesters were on the streets demonizing Bush. His visit has
inflamed passions among communist and Muslim groups opposed to
American policies such as the invasion of Iraq.

In the capital, thousands of communists and socialist party
activists marched through the heart of the city, many wearing
red caps and waving red flags.

"Beat up Bush with slippers" some activists shouted while
others held placards that said "Imperialist, Barbarian Bush Go
Back" and "Alert, Deadly Bushfire has arrived in India."

The U.N. nuclear watchdog welcomed the pact and said it
would end New Delhi's nuclear isolation and spur global
non-proliferation efforts.

"It would be a milestone, timely for ongoing efforts to
consolidate the non-proliferation regime, combat nuclear
terrorism and strengthen nuclear safety," said Mohammed
ElBaradei, International Atomic Energy Authority chief.


The nuclear deal has been opposed by members of the U.S.
Congress because India has not signed the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said he
expected "broad-scale international support" for the deal.

Both sides were reluctant to give details of the deal but
sources close to the negotiations said India had agreed to list
14 of its 22 reactors as civilian and open them to scrutiny.

Washington had also agreed to keep India's experimental
fast breeder reactor out of the civilian list, which was a key
sticking point during talks.

Singh said he was particularly pleased that the two
countries had been able to clinch the deal.

"Our discussions today make me confident that there is no
limits to Indo-U.S. partnerships."

Negotiations went down to the wire as the two sides
struggled to bridge key differences over India's plan to
separate its military and civilian nuclear plants and open the
latter to international inspections to prevent proliferation.

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 next on his itinerary.

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.

The three-day India visit, the fifth by a U.S. president,
was seen as a recognition in Washington of the strategic and
economic significance of India after decades of mistrust
between the two countries.

His trip has drawn a lot of attention across the country of
1.1 billion people but also prompted large demonstrations.

Tens of thousands of protesters, including communists,
Muslims and student activists, demonstrated in several Indian
cities, burning effigies of Bush, marching through market
places, shouting slogans and holding placards denouncing him.

One of the protesters, former Indian Prime Minister H.D.
Deve Gowda, held a placard which read: "Mr Bush, you are a
symbol of crime against humanity."

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