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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Offers India Nuclear Technology

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President George W. Bush agreed to share civilian nuclear technology with India, reversing decades of U.S. policies designed to discourage countries from developing nuclear weapons.

The agreement Monday between Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which must win the approval of Congress, would create a major exception to the U.S. prohibition of nuclear assistance to any country that doesn't accept international monitoring of all of its nuclear facilities. India has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which requires such oversight, and conducted its first nuclear detonation in 1974.

Participants in the discussions said there had been debate within the administration about whether the deal with India -- which built its atomic arsenal in secret -- would undercut U.S. efforts to confront Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs. There were also concerns about how the agreement would be accepted in Pakistan, India's regional rival and an ally in the U.S. campaign against al-Qaida.

But supporters of the approach said it 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, according to current and former senior administration officials. As part of the strategy, the administration is also seeking ways to bolster Japan's posture in the region.

The Bush administration, which had not expected to reach an agreement on the matter until a future Bush visit to India, said it had moved more quickly because it had secured commitments from New Delhi to limit the spread of nuclear materials and technology. The agreement does not formally recognize India as a nuclear power -- a status India had sought -- but it is a significant plum for the world's most populous democracy and cements India as a key strategic U.S. ally in Asia for the coming decades.

Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, called the agreement "a major move forward for the U.S." and "the high-water mark of U.S.-India relations since 1947." Burns said the agreement was in line with "efforts that nuclear powers have taken to maintain a responsible policy in terms of nonproliferation."

But some nonproliferation specialists found the deal troubling. "This is a stunning example of the Bush administration's policy of exceptionalism for friends at the cost of a consistent and effective attack on the dangers of nuclear weapons," said Daryl Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association.

Under the terms of the deal, India agreed to place its civilian nuclear facilities -- but not its nuclear weapons arsenal -- under international monitoring and pledged to continue to honor a ban on nuclear testing. In return, it would have access, for the first time, to conventional weapons systems and to sensitive U.S. nuclear technology that can be used in either a civilian or a military program.

The agreement does not call for India to cease production of weapons-grade uranium, which enables India to expand its nuclear arsenal.

U.S. Representative Edward Markey condemned the agreement as a "dangerous proposition and bad nonproliferation policy" and said he would introduce legislation to block it. "We cannot play favorites, breaking the rules of the nonproliferation treaty, to favor one nation at the risk of undermining critical international treaties on nuclear weapons," he said in a statement. "What will Russia say when they want to supply more nuclear materials or technology to Iran? You can be sure that Pakistan will demand equal treatment."