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Bush Opens Door to Nuclear Energy Help for India

July 18, 2005

WASHINGTON — President Bush, in a dramatic policy shift, promised India full cooperation on Monday in developing its civilian nuclear power program in return for New Delhi’s commitment to adhere to international regimes aimed at curbing arms proliferation.

A statement released after talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that underscored Washington’s recognition of India as a rising power said Bush would ask Congress to change U.S. law and work with allies to adjust international rules to allow nuclear trade with India.

Washington had barred providing atomic technology to India because of New Delhi’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.

But the joint statement, obtained by Reuters, said: “As a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology, India should acquire the same benefits and advantages as other states.”

Bush would “seek agreement from Congress to adjust U.S. laws and policies, and the United States will work with friends and allies to adjust international regimes to enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India,” it said.

India, which tested a nuclear weapon in 1998, agreed to identify and separate its civilian and military nuclear programs, continue a moratorium on nuclear testing and place civilian nuclear facilities under the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

But these are all voluntary, not legal, commitments, and India continues to remain outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation treaty, the bedrock of international arms control.

‘EVERYTHING IT WANTED’

“The president just gave India everything it wanted. He’s rewarding India despite that country’s remaining outside the global NPT regime,” said Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“This is the triumph of great power politics over nonproliferation policy. I don’t know how the president is going to square this circle when he says nonproliferation is his highest priority and still does this,” he added.

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.

Singh told reporters that India had an “ambitious and attainable national road map” in civilian nuclear power, aimed at fueling economic growth for its billion people. He touted recent economic growth of 7 percent a year.

Opponents of the 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.

“The potential benefits of nuclear power for India’s energy sector are much more elusive and distant than any of the proponents think,” said Henry Sokolski, head of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington.

“But what is immediate and dramatic is how this decision is going to undermine the good behavior of countries including Russia and France, who have adhered to very tough nuclear supplier guidelines,” he said.

Bush’s push to help India increase its coal and nuclear power generating capacity is being driven at least partly 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.

Indian media had described the nuclear issue as a “touchstone” for U.S. willingness to work with India and accept its growing role on the international stage.

Singh, who said India had a “compelling case” for a permanent seat on an expanded U.N. Security Council, did not get everything on his Washington wishlist.

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

(Additional reporting by Carol Giacomo, Adam Entous and Patricia Wilson)




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