- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2006

NEW DELHI, India — Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Bush today announced an agreement on a landmark nuclear deal, a coup for Mr. Bush’s first visit to India.

Under the accord, elusive until the last minute, the United States would share American nuclear know-how and fuel with India to help power its fast-growing economy, even though India won’t sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It would represent a major shift in policy for the United States, which imposed temporary sanctions on India in 1998 after it conducted nuclear tests.

“We concluded an historic agreement today on nuclear power,” Mr. Bush said. “It’s not an easy job for the prime minister to achieve this agreement. I understand. It’s not easy for the American president to achieve this agreement.”

Mr. Bush, turning immediately toward selling the deal to skeptics in the U.S. Congress, called it “a necessary agreement.”

“It’s one that will help both our peoples,” he said.

Mr. Singh repeatedly thanked Mr. Bush for personally shepherding the deal.

“But for his leadership, this day probably would not have come so soon,” Mr. Singh said.

Later in the week, Mr. Bush was heading to Pakistan where today at least one bomb ripped through the parking lot of the Marriott Hotel in Karachi, exploding windows in the nearby U.S. consulate. Mr. Bush said he had been briefed on the bombing and been told that the victims included at least one U.S. citizen, a foreign service officer he did not identify by name.

The attack occurred hundreds of miles from Islamabad, where Mr. Bush’s events were taking place, but underscored the need for the extraordinary security planned for his visit there.

Mr. Bush said the attack would not deter him in his travels.

“Terrorists and killers are not going to prevent me from going to Pakistan,” he said.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Singh signed an agreement in July to provide India with nuclear fuel for the country’s booming but energy-starved economy. But it hinged upon determining how to segregate India’s nuclear weapons work from its commercial nuclear program, and place the latter under international inspection, in a way that satisfied both sides.

Some lawmakers in Washington contend that the Bush administration is essentially making a side deal to the international nonproliferation treaty. Critics in India, meanwhile, are wary that the United States is meddling in Indian affairs, and is using India as a counterweight to China’s growing economic and political influence.

The president acknowledged that convincing lawmakers would be difficult.

“Proliferation is certainly a concern and a part of our discussions and we’ve got a good-faith gesture by the Indian government that I’ll be able to take to the Congress,” Mr. Bush said. “But the other thing that our Congress has got to understand that it’s in our economic interests that India have a civilian nuclear power industry to help take the pressure off the global demand for energy. … To the extent that we can reduce demand for fossil fuels, it will reduce the cost to the American consumer.”

Also acknowledging the deal falls outside the limits of traditional international agreements, Bush argued it was responsible and would not increase proliferation risks.

“What this agreement says is - things change, times change, that leadership can make a difference. … So I’m trying to think differently, not stay stuck in the past,” he said.

The frantic negotiations for the nuclear pact, coupled with protests planned throughout Mr. Bush’s stay, reflected India’s mixed feelings about the visit by the leader of the United States - a country seen as a loyal friend by some and a global bully by others.

Many business and government leaders of this nation of more than 1 billion people are eager to strengthen ties with the United States.

But for a second day, thousands of demonstrators gathered in New Delhi to protest Mr. Bush’s visit. Dozens of politicians, mainly from leftist parties, stood on the steps of the country’s national parliament building chanting “Bush go back!” and “Down with Bush!”

Mr. Bush began more than 12 hours of events and meetings today with a striking arrival ceremony in a sun-drenched plaza at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the president’s palace.

From under a red canopy outside the massive sandstone-colored building, the U.S. president was treated to the playing of the American national anthem. He reviewed troops of the Indian armed services outfitted in orange turbans and brown dress uniforms with colorful sashes and marveled at a cavalry unit on horseback that had earlier flanked his limousine.

“I have been received in many capitals around the world but I have never seen a reception as well-organized or as grand,” Mr. Bush said.

The president and his wife, Laura, then visited a memorial to India’s independence leader, M.K. Gandhi, standing in stocking feet for a moment of silence and wreath-laying at the site where he was cremated in 1948. Following tradition, the Bushes tossed flower petals on the cremation platform.

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