Senate takes major step on India nuclear deal


Richard Moore

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Senate takes major step on India nuclear deal
Bill allows shipment of civilian fuel, technology from U.S. to India
The Associated Press
Updated: 8:54 p.m. ET Nov. 16, 2006

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate has overwhelmingly endorsed a plan allowing the 
United States to ship civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India, handing 
President Bush an important victory on one of his top foreign policy 

Senior lawmakers from both political parties championed the proposal, which 
reverses decades of U.S. anti-proliferation policy, saying it strengthens a key 
relationship with a friendly Asian power that has long maintained what the 
United States considers a responsible nuclear program. Thursday's vote was 

Republican Sen. Richard Lugar called the plan "a lasting incentive" for India to
shun future nuclear weapons tests and "to cooperate closely with the United 
States in stopping proliferation." Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden said the 
endorsement pushes America "a giant step closer" to a "major shift in 
U.S.-Indian relations."

"If we are right, this shift will increase the prospect for stability and 
progress in South Asia and in the world at large," Biden said.

More hurdles to clear

Even with the strong approval by the Senate, however, several hurdles loom 
before India and the United States could begin civil nuclear trade.

First on that list, lawmakers in the House of Representatives, which 
overwhelmingly endorsed the plan in July, and the Senate must now reconcile 
their versions into a single bill before the next congressional session begins 
in January. That bill would then be sent to Bush for his signature.

Critics argued that the plan would ruin the world's nonproliferation regime and 
boost India's nuclear arsenal. The extra civilian nuclear fuel that the deal 
would provide, they say, could free India's domestic uranium for use in its 
weapons program. Pakistan and China could respond by increasing their nuclear 
stockpiles, sparking a regional arms race.

Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan called the agreement "a horrible mistake" that 
"provides a green light" for India to produce more nuclear weapons. "I believe 
one day we will look back at this with great regret," he said.

During debate Thursday, supporters beat back changes they said would have killed
the proposal by making it unacceptable to India. Critics said the changes were 
necessary to guard against nuclear proliferation.

Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer unsuccessfully proposed a condition that would 
have required India to cut off military-to-military ties with Iran before 
allowing civil nuclear cooperation.

Rep. Ed Markey, a Democratic critic in the House, said the Senate's endorsement 
of the proposal "sends the wrong signal at a time when the world is trying to 
prevent Iran from getting" a nuclear bomb. The plan, he said, would set "a 
precedent that other nations can invoke when they seek nuclear cooperation with 
countries that also refuse to abide by nonproliferation rules."

Military plants off-limits

The bill carves out an exemption in American law to allow U.S. civilian nuclear 
trade with India in exchange for Indian safeguards and inspections at its 14 
civilian nuclear plants; eight military plants would be off-limits.

Congressional action is necessary because U.S. law bars nuclear trade with 
countries that have not submitted to full international inspections. India built
its nuclear weapons program outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which 
provides civil nuclear trade in exchange for a pledge from nations not to pursue
nuclear weapons.

There are other necessary steps before U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation could 
begin. An exception for India must be made by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an 
assembly of nations that export nuclear material. Indian officials also must 
negotiate a safeguard agreement with the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

And once technical negotiations on an overall cooperation agreement are settled 
between India and the United States, Congress would then hold another vote on 
the overall deal.

© 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be 
published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


© 2006

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