Bush Officials Defend India Nuclear Deal

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is greeted as he enters the House before speaking to a joint meeting of Congress about the nuclear deal.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is greeted as he enters the House before speaking to a joint meeting of Congress about the nuclear deal. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

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By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Bush administration officials yesterday lobbied Congress and tried to assure allies that a new deal to supply India with civilian nuclear technology and conventional military equipment was not meant to betray decades of nuclear-control policies or upset the regional balance of power.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, addressing Congress, said his country, which developed its nuclear program in secret in the 1970s, was a responsible nuclear state that would closely guard any future acquisitions of sensitive U.S. technology. He appealed for U.S. investment that could spur India's economic growth and bring in $150 billion in the next decade for nuclear power plants and to modernize the country's transportation system.

The details of the nuclear deal had been tightly held until they were announced late Monday during Singh's visit to the White House. Under the agreement, India would place its civilian nuclear facilities, but not its nuclear weapons program,under international monitoring and would continue a ban on nuclear testing. The United States would give India access to U.S. nuclear technology and conventional weapons systems.

Yesterday, Pentagon officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they expected India to start purchasing as much as $5 billion worth of conventional military equipment as a result of the deal, if it is approved by Congress. The current U.S. Nonproliferation Act prevents India and other countries that have not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty from acquiring a wide range of U.S. military technology that includes components that could be used for nuclear programs.

Administration officials have sought to publicly play down how the arrangement fits into a broad White House strategy to help position India -- a democracy that has the capacity to expand its nuclear arsenal -- as a regional counterweight to China.

But Pentagon officials said they considered many of the potential sales, including anti-submarine patrol aircraft that could spot Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean and Aegis radar for Indian destroyers operating in the strategic Straits of Malaka, as useful for monitoring the Chinese military.

The Pentagon yesterday released an assessment of China's military strength. Basing the findings on U.S. intelligence, the report claims that Beijing is increasing its nuclear arsenal and specifically noted that Chinese missiles are capable of striking India, Russia and "virtually all of the United States."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday called Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, and Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, officials said.

Her advisers spoke with members of Congress, including Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. And the State Department organized briefings for allies surprised by the deal, which reverses years of nonproliferation policies and skirts the major tenets of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is credited by many with limiting the spread of nuclear weapons.

Foreign diplomats from some of Washington's closest allies predicted a tough climb for the administration, which will need to persuade many of them to alter rules in the Nuclear Suppliers Group that limit exports of sensitive nuclear technologies to countries that have not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The NSG is a 44-country consortium that was established immediately after India conducted its first nuclear detonation in 1974 as a way of specifically keeping nuclear materials out of the country.

"This sends the signal that bilateral relations and other strategic interests will trump nonproliferation," said Robert Einhorn, who served as assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation when India conducted a series of nuclear tests in 1998. "And that will reduce the perceived penalties associated with going nuclear."

Members of Congress welcomed Singh yesterday but were reluctant to sign off on the agreement, which would require congressional approval.

Lugar, who has pioneered nonproliferation legislation, said Congress needed to hear from the White House how the deal would affect U.S. nuclear policies elsewhere.

"We're going to have a lot of conversations," he said.

House members of the energy conference committee approved a measure offered by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) to prevent the export of nuclear technology to India. "This is a way for the House to send a signal on this particular treaty," Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), chairman of the conference committee, said in a statement.


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