Did Bush Blink?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, March 3, 2006; 12:30 PM

In addition to all the predictable reactions (pro and con) to the landmark nuclear agreement reached in India yesterday, a powerful and unexpected new concern has emerged based on a last-minute concession by President Bush.

It appears that, to close the deal during his visit, Bush directed his negotiators to give in to India's demands that it be allowed to produce unlimited quantities of fissile material and amass as many nuclear weapons as it wants.

The agreement, which requires congressional approval, would be an important step toward Bush's long-held goal of closer relations with India. It would reflect India's status as a global power. And, not least of all, it would more firmly establish India as a military ally and bulwark against China.

Critics have long denounced such an agreement, saying it would reward India for its rogue nuclear-weapons program and could encourage other nations to do likewise.

But now the criticisms may focus on this question: By enabling India to build an unlimited stockpile of nuclear weapons, would this agreement set off a new Asian arms race?

And here's another question: Were Bush and his aides so eager for some good headlines -- for a change -- that they gave away the store?

The Coverage

Jim VandeHei and Dafna Linzer write in The Washington Post: "Bush and [Indian Prime Minister Manmohan] Singh praised the deal at a joint news conference, but they did not mention that it would allow India to produce vast quantities of fissile material, something the United States and the four other major nuclear powers -- China, Russia, France and Britain -- have voluntarily halted. The pact also does not require oversight of India's prototype fast-breeder reactors, which can produce significant amounts of super-grade plutonium when fully operating. . . .

"Last week, during a private meeting with a group of congressional leaders, [undersecretary of state for political affairs R. Nicholas] Burns suggested it was unlikely the sides would be able to quickly bridge significant gaps on the separation plan. But a last-minute decision by Bush to accept India's demands sealed the deal. . . .

"Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who chairs the International Relations subcommittee on international terrorism and nonproliferation, said he welcomed better ties with India, but not at any cost. In a statement, he said the agreement had 'implications beyond U.S.-India relations' and that the 'goal of curbing nuclear proliferation should be paramount.' He warned that Congress would not be rushed into backing the deal. . . .

"But supporters said the pact was an important part of a White House strategy to accelerate New Delhi's rise as a global power and as a regional counterweight to China."

Elisabeth Bumiller and Somini Sengupta write in the New York Times: "In New Delhi, American and Indian negotiators working all night reached agreement on the nuclear deal at 10:30 a.m. Thursday local time -- only two hours before Mr. Bush and Mr. Singh announced it -- after the United States accepted an Indian plan to separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities. . . .

"India . . . retained the right to develop future fast-breeder reactors for its military program, a provision that critics of the deal called astonishing. In addition, India said it was guaranteed a permanent supply of nuclear fuel. . . .


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