June 29, 2006

Senate committee backs India nuclear deal

By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A key U.S. Senate committee on
Thursday gave initial approval to a civilian nuclear
cooperation deal with India, hailing it as the cornerstone of
ties with an important new ally.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed bipartisan
legislation endorsing the deal and setting rules for final
approval on a 16 to 2 vote. There was little wrangling over
nonproliferation concerns that had dogged earlier debate over
the agreement.

The agreement with India, often a U.S. adversary during the
Cold War, "is the most important strategic diplomatic
initiative undertaken by President (George W.) Bush," said the
legislation's prime sponsor, Republican Committee Chairman
Richard Lugar of Indiana.

The deal, granting nuclear-armed India access to U.S.
nuclear fuel and reactors for the first time in 30 years, was
agreed in principle by Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh last July 18.

A separate bill was passed on Tuesday by the House of
Representatives International Relations Committee. Each chamber
must now approve its own bill, then reconcile the competing
versions and take another vote, which proponents anticipate in

But before Congress can give final approval, U.S.-India
negotiations on the technical details of the peaceful nuclear
cooperation agreement must be completed, as must India's
negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency on a
system of inspections for New Delhi's civilian nuclear

In addition, the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group must
also approve the deal. Pakistan, the United States' key
front-line ally in the war on terrorism, is upset by the
nuclear deal with India -- its nuclear rival -- and has
demanded similar treatment, but Washington has repeatedly
rejected the request.

Many nonproliferation experts are concerned the deal would
allow India to increase nuclear weapons production and
undermine U.S. obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation
Treaty not to assist states who are formally classified as
non-nuclear states under the NPT as not having nuclear weapons
with their weapons programs.

India, like Pakistan, has tested nuclear weapons but has
refused to sign the NPT.