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Bush, India’s Singh stress stronger ties

July 18, 2005

By Paul Eckert, Asia Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Bush on Monday offered
India’s prime minister a wide-ranging economic and security
partnership with the United States, but stopped short of
promising the nuclear energy technology India seeks to fuel its
fast-growing economy.

After a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that
underscored U.S. recognition of India as a rising power, Bush
said the two countries were holding a “bilateral energy
dialogue to find ways to work together” on nuclear power.

The United States is eager to improve ties with the world’s
largest democracy, attracted by India’s booming technology
expertise, growing commercial market and strategic importance
as a counterweight to China both militarily and economically.

But Washington has balked at lifting curbs on providing
atomic technology to India because of India’s status as a
nuclear power that has refused to sign the nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty, which was designed to halt the spread
of nuclear weapons.

Singh said India had an “ambitious and attainable national
road map” in civilian nuclear power, aimed at fueling economic
growth for the South Asian country’s billion people. He touted
Indian economic growth of 7 percent a year in recent years.

A joint statement detailing agreements in nuclear power as
well as cooperation in areas such as space exploration and
health was delayed for hours as the two sides worked out
wording.

U.S. proposals circulating before Monday’s meeting pointed
to increased cooperation on nuclear safety and research.

INDIAN EXCEPTION?

Robert Hathaway, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s
Asia Program, said India had viewed the nuclear issue as a
“touchstone of U.S. seriousness to transform the relationship”
and expected greater progress after two years of discussions.

“If I were sitting in New Delhi now I don’t think I’d be
particularly enthused about the promise of another working
group or dialogue,” said the South Asia analyst.

Singh asked Bush to show “strong leadership” on the nuclear
issue, but told reporters he was satisfied with the way
Washington was addressing India’s request for nuclear help.

Congressional aides said some restrictions could be eased
once India had tough export controls in place and agreed to put
some of its civilian reactors under international safeguards.

John Pike, a national security expert with
GlobalSecurity.org, said the administration’s hands were tied
for now because India had not signed the NPT. In 1998, India
and Pakistan conducted tit-for-tat nuclear tests.

Pike predicted Bush would treat India as an exception
“because they are emerging as one of our leading strategic
partners, and we’re prepared to make exceptions in the case of
countries that we need.”

But opponents of any policy change say setting aside the
rules for India would make it harder for the United States to
stop Russian or Chinese transfers to states of concern.

Bush’s push to help India increase its coal and nuclear
power generating capacity is being driven at least in part to
give New Delhi an alternative to a proposed $4 billion gas
pipeline deal with Tehran, which Washington accuses of trying
to secretly develop nuclear weapons.

Singh said India had a “compelling case” for a permanent
seat on an expanded U.N. Security Council.

But Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Bush told
Singh the United States wanted fundamental reforms of the
United Nations before any expansion of the council and hoped
there would be no vote on council enlargement in coming weeks.

“Once those reforms are made, then of course we’d be
willing to look at the question of U.N. Security Council
expansion,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Adam Entous and Patricia Wilson)




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