House Backs Nuclear Sales to India

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 9, 2006

The House last night reversed decades of U.S. policy aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, voting 330 to 59 to allow expanded sales of civilian nuclear technology to India. The Senate is likely to follow suit today and send the measure to President Bush for his expected signature.

The legislation, pushed hard by the Bush administration, is part of a strategy to accelerate India's rise as a counterweight to China in Asia. Republican and Democratic supporters argued that the measure would solidify India as an ally while providing millions of dollars in sales for the U.S. energy industry. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), who will chair the House International Relations Committee next year, said the measure "ushers in a new era of cooperation between our two great democracies."

Opponents warned that Congress was moving toward a colossal error that would accelerate the spread of nuclear weapons and foment a dangerous nuclear arms race in Asia.

"This bill is an historic mistake, a mistake which will come back to haunt the United States and the world," said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who co-chairs the Bipartisan Task Force on Nonproliferation.

For years, the United States has used nuclear trade as a carrot to induce nations to agree to the international Non-Proliferation Treaty, withholding civilian reactors and technology from nations, such as India, that refuse to sign. But in March, Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to a plan that would allow civil nuclear trade with India in return for safeguards and inspections at India's 14 civilian nuclear plants. Eight military plants would be off-limits.

Lantos and other supporters of the measure secured additional safeguards that they said should allay opponents' proliferation concerns. They argued that U.S. policy unfairly discriminated against India, which has never been accused of fomenting nuclear proliferation, while rewarding China, which has helped Iran and Pakistan with their efforts.

Nevertheless, much of the support for the bill was for economic reasons. With a population of 1 billion, India has vast energy needs, and civilian nuclear technology would help it to modernize.

Concerns remain, however. By creating a new civilian nuclear market, critics contend, the deal will allow India's existing nuclear reactors to be devoted solely to producing fuel for nuclear weapons. India's nuclear-armed rival, Pakistan, has condemned the deal, and China has also been leery.

In recent months, India's ties with Iran have also come under scrutiny, as the Bush administration tries to pressure Tehran to give up its own nuclear ambitions.

A report issued last month by the Congressional Research Service, which does in-depth analysis for Congress, said that "India's long relationship with Iran" made it unlikely that India would take a hard line on Tehran. India does not support nuclear weapons for Iran, but, the report said, "its views of the Iranian threat and appropriate responses differ significantly from U.S. views."

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