Bush to sign U.S.-India nuclear cooperation law

Iran Materials 18 December 2006 13:09 (UTC +04:00)

(Reuters) - Aiming to cement closer ties with India, President George W. Bush is to sign legislation on Monday that is a major step toward allowing New Delhi to buy U.S. nuclear reactors and fuel for the first time in 30 years.

The bill was approved overwhelmingly by Congress on December 9. But three other approvals -- by the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.S. Congress -- are still needed before American nuclear transfers to India can take place, reports Trend.

Protesters display flags of the National Bolshevik Party at a rally that drew about 2,000 people despite the detentions. Speakers denounced what they called Russia's retreat from democracy. (Fyodor Savintsev -- Associated Press)

But some analysts say winning passage of the law Bush is due to sign at the White House was the hardest hurdle.

"I think it reflects not only the growing importance of India as a partner and ally with the United States, but I think we hope the growing importance of the United States also as an ally with India," White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters on Friday.

Critics decried the bill -- which makes changes in the U.S. Atomic Energy Act -- as a historic mistake that undermines efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons.

But the Bush administration and its allies insisted nuclear commerce to expand electricity generation in India will foster a broad range of ties with the rising South Asian power and open up billions of dollars in trade for U.S. companies.

The deal reverses 30 years of U.S. policy that, until July 2005, opposed nuclear cooperation with India because it developed nuclear weapons in contravention of international standards and never signed the Non-proliferation Treaty.

A multimillion dollar lobbying campaign by India and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was largely successful in preventing Congress from adding nonproliferation requirements Delhi found too burdensome or unfair.

Congressional sponsors said the legislation does include some restraints, including ensuring that the United States must terminate all export and re-export of nuclear materials to India if New Delhi tests another nuclear weapon.

As lead signatory of the NPT, the United States has been obligated to forswear assistance to the nuclear programs of states that did not sign the treaty.

Experts say India has already produced about 50 nuclear weapons and plans to reach up to 400 in a decade. Many fear selling India fuel for civilian energy use will free up New Delhi's indigenous uranium stocks for weapons.

Under the deal, India has agreed to allow international inspections at 14 civilian nuclear plants while eight military facilities would still be off-limits.

Before nuclear cooperation can begin, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which regulates nuclear trade, must change its rules. India and the International Atomic Energy Agency must agree on an inspection plan. And Congress must approve the technical details of nuclear trade in a so-called 123 agreement, named for a section of the Atomic Energy Act.