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US critics slam India's landmark nuclear deal

By Super

Washington, Mar 02: US critics today (Mar 02, 2006) accused President George W Bush of selling out weapons non-proliferation goals in order to close a landmark nuclear deal with New Delhi, hardening battle lines as the US Congress prepares to debate its fate.

Congress and the 44-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group must both approve the agreement, which would allow India, after three decades of pariah status, access to billions of dollars in US and other foreign atomic technology and fuel to meet its soaring energy needs.

Although many US lawmakers favour closer ties with the world's largest democracy, non-proliferation advocates said details that had so far emerged suggest Bush gave away too much in the nuclear agreement in an effort to ensure a successful summit with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi.

Democratic Rep Edward Markey of Massachusetts said the accord ''undermines the security not only of the United States, but of the rest of the world.'' ''With one simple move the president has blown a hole in the nuclear rules that the entire world has been playing by and broken his own word to assure that we will not ship nuclear technology to India without the proper safeguards,'' said Markey, co-chair of the bi-partisan task force on non-proliferation.

Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association faulted the White House for a ''rush to meet artificial deadlines (that) sold out core non-proliferation values'' in favour of a deal that would ''implicitly endorse, if not indirectly assist, the further growth of India's nuclear arsenal.'' Until today's deal, Washington and New Delhi were divided on how India will separate its military and civilian nuclear plants, opening the latter to international inspections as a hedge against weapons proliferation.

Officials said India agreed to list 14 of its 22 reactors as civilian and open them to international inspection.

But experts said the fast-breeder reactors, a major sticking point in negotiations appeared to be exempt, or at most inspections would be at India's discretion, and many more facilities; research reactors, reprocessing facilities and spent fuel stockpiles also look to be excluded from safeguards.

''It's a sweetheart deal for India. The administration told Congress the agreement would be about the growth of India's electricity and not the growth of Indian bomb making potential and that standard clearly has not been met,'' said Michael Krepon of the Henry L Stimson Center.

Rep Ed Royce of California, chairman of the House subcommittee on international terrorism and non-proliferation and a member of Bush's Republican party, said there is enthusiastic support in Congress for growing US-India ties.

''However, the US-India agreement on civil nuclear cooperation has implications beyond US-India relations. In this process, the goal of curbing nuclear proliferation should be paramount. Congress will continue its careful consideration of this far-reaching agreement,'' Royce said.

Bush, at a news conference, acknowledged the agreement will be difficult to sell to Congress but was confident he could defend it as being in US interests.

Ron Somers, president of the US-India Business Council, which is leading a lobbying campaign on behalf of the nuclear agreement, said by telephone from New Delhi there is no question Congress supports deepening ties with India. But asked whether the deal can win legislative approval, he said ''we must succeed. This is too important not to succeed".


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