It’s law – US can ship nuclear fuel to India

The signing – a major policy victory for Bush – will cement the US strategic partnership with India.

PRESIDENT George W. Bush yesterday signed into law a Bill that will allow US shipments of civilian nuclear fuel to India.

After almost a year of uncertainty, the move sealed a major foreign policy victory for the beleaguered Bush administration and ended decades of US anti-proliferation policy. It also fulfilled a quest by India to be a “legitimate” nuclear power alongside the five victors of World War II.

Mr Joseph Biden, who becomes chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next month, said: “This Bill is a tremendous victory for US-India relations. It increases the prospect for stability and progress in South Asia and the rest of the world.”

Significantly, the nuclear accord cements a strategic partnership with an Asian ally that some observers believe is an important component of the Pentagon’s strategy to hedge against China’s growing economic and military power.

Critics of the landmark deal, which Washington believes will “help India become a major world power in the 21st century”, argue that the pact would lead to an arms race between India and its nuclear rivals China and Pakistan, hence destabilising the region.

But Mr Bush stressed yesterday that the Bill “will help keep America safe by paving the way for India to join the global effort to stop the spread of nuclear weapons”.

Earlier, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns made similar arguments when speaking to reporters at the White House.

“It is important to bring a country that has protected its civil nuclear technology into the international system,” he said, referring to safeguards of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“We are bringing the largest country in the world into the system.”

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

Congressional action was needed because US law bars nuclear trade with countries which, like India, have not submitted to full international inspections.

Most of India’s concerns have been addressed in the final Bill.

Under strong pressure from New Delhi, negotiators softened a provision that required US presidents to certify that India was actively cooperating in restraining Iran’s nuclear programme.

As written now, the Bill requires that the President provide Congress with an annual report detailing India’s efforts on Iran.

The Bush administration had lobbied hard to get the Bill passed.

The deal was viewed through a wider geopolitical lens. In return for giving New Delhi nuclear recognition, Washington secured a partnership with a strategically important Asian power.

Washington has long stressed the importance of its relationship with Japan to ensure that it has an ally on China’s south-eastern flank. Forging links with a nuclear-armed, democratic and economically resurgent India could build one to the south-west too.

Indeed, with the agreement, US-India ties will edge closer to sharing many of the features of a formal alliance.

Harvard professor Ashton Carter, a leading expert on proliferation and a former senior defence official in the Clinton administration, told Congress in April: “Washington gave on the nuclear front to get something on the non-nuclear front. Powerful arguments can be made that strategic partnership with India will prove to be in the deep and long-term US security interest.”

But before civil nuclear trade can begin, several hurdles remain.

US and Indian officials need to work out a separate technical nuclear cooperation pact, expected to be finalised next year.

They must also obtain an exception for India in the rules of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an assembly of countries that export nuclear material, and India must negotiate a safeguard agreement with the IAEA.

SOMETHING FOR SOMETHING

“Washington gave on the nuclear front to get something on the non-nuclear front. Powerful arguments can be made that strategic partnership with India will prove to be in the deep and long-term US security interest.”
HARVARD PROFESSOR ASHTON CARTER, a leading expert on proliferation and a former defence official in the Clinton administration

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