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Bush Administration faces tough questions on nuke deal

Written by: Staff

Washington, Mar 3 (UNI) US President George W Bush's administration, in concluding a nuclear deal with India, faces significant opposition in Congress on whether the arrangement could set a precedent encouraging the spread of nuclear weapons to Iran and other of its potential foes, according to New York Times.

Muslim-led protesters rage against President Bush on his India visit as the US and India reached pact that allows nuclear sales.

But President Bush administration officials expressed confidence and said, ''they could overcome the skepticism of the critics, in part because support is nearly universal in the West and among Republicans and Democrats in Washington for building India's strength as a bastion of democracy and a counterweight to China in Asia.'' In a statement issued, the Defence Department hailed the deal as opening a path for more American-Indian military cooperation.

''Where only a few years ago, no one would have talked about the prospects for a major US-India defense deal, today the prospects are promising, whether in the realm of combat aircraft, helicopters, maritime patrol aircraft or naval vessels,'' the Defence Department statement said.

Diplomats familiar with the negotiations with India said Britain, France, Germany and probably Russia would eventually line up to support the agreement, in part because it would clear the way for them to sell nuclear fuel, reactors and equipment to India. They would not agree to be identified, because several countries have yet to signal what stance they would take.

More skepticism is expected from China, because India has made little secret of its desire for a nuclear weapons arsenal to counter Beijing and its longtime ally, Pakistan, several diplomats were quoted as saying in New York Times.

Critics of the deal in Congress and abroad are certain to focus on what they maintain is a double standard embraced by the Bush administration, in effect, allowing India to have nuclear weapons and still get international assistance but insisting Iran, North Korea and other ''rogue states'' be given no such waiver.

But administration officials insisted there was no double standard.

''The comparison between India and Iran is just ludicrous,'' the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R Nicholas Burns yesterday said adding, that ''India is a highly democratic, peaceful, stable state that has not proliferated nuclear weapons. Iran is an autocratic state mistrusted by nearly all countries and that has violated its international commitments.'' What has emerged on Capitol Hill is an alliance of conservative Republicans, who are concerned the deal will encourage Iranian intransigence, and liberal Democrats, who charge that the Bush administration has effectively scrapped the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

This bipartisan skepticism is unusual, producing for example cooperation between a liberal Democrat, Representative Edward J Markey of Massachusetts, and a conservative Republican, Representative Henry J Hyde of Illinois, chairman of the House International Relations Committee.

Senator Richard G Lugar, the Indiana Republican, who leads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has raised more than 80 questions about the deal that he says need to be answered before it can be approved.

''People are worried about the precedent of establishing a full-fledged cooperation with India while we're wagging our finger at North Korea and Iran,'' a Republican aide on Capitol Hill on being requested anonymity said. ''But it's also true that India is facing an energy crisis, and we can't ignore that problem either,'' he added.

The negotiated accord announced yesterday by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi is aimed at removing the ban effectively imposed by the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty on the sale of fuel and civilian nuclear technology to India, in return for India's agreement to put its civilian reactors under international inspections.

India, will be able not only to retain its nuclear arms program but to keep a third of its reactors under military control, outside international inspection, including two so-called fast-breeder reactors that could produce fuel for weapons, the negotiators said.

The accord would also allow India to build future breeder reactors and keep them outside international inspections and would allow the country to buy equipment and materials for only those new reactors that are to be used for civilian purposes.

The accord announced in New Delhi would place 14 of India's 22 nuclear reactors under civilian inspection regimes by 2014.

''This deal not only lets India amass as many nuclear weapons as it wants, it looks like we made no effort to try to curtail them,'' Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace George Perkovich said adding, ''This is Santa Claus negotiating. The goal seems to have been to give away as much as possible.'' UNI XC AD PA GC1340

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