Bush signs U.S.-India nuclear deal

By Carol Giacomo and Tabassum Zakaria
Reuters
Monday, December 18, 2006; 1:23 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush hailed a new era of strategic cooperation with India on Monday as he signed a law that is a major step toward allowing New Delhi to buy U.S. nuclear reactors and fuel for the first time in 30 years.

Three other approvals -- by the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, the International Atomic Energy Agency and a second time by the U.S. Congress -- are still needed before U.S. nuclear transfers to India actually can take place.

But some analysts say winning passage in Congress of the law that Bush signed with fanfare at the White House was the highest hurdle. It was approved overwhelmingly by the legislative body on December 9.

"The relationship between the United States and India has never been more vital and this bill will help us meet the energy and security challenges of the 21st century," Bush said at the bill-signing ceremony.

"The United States and India are natural partners, the rivalries that once kept our nations apart are no more," Bush said, citing similarities between the two democracies.

But critics decried the bill -- which makes changes in the U.S. Atomic Energy Act -- as a historic mistake that undermines U.S. efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons and will fan an arms race with India's nuclear rivals Pakistan and China.

The new law "may well become the death warrant to the international nuclear nonproliferation regime," said Democratic Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts.

The administration insisted, however, that civil nuclear commerce for expanded electricity generation in India will foster broad ties with the rising South Asian power and open up billions of dollars in trade for U.S. companies.

It brushed aside concerns about India's ties to Iran, whose nuclear program Bush has described as a major international threat.

PROLIFERATION CONCERNS

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, or

NPT.


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