- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2006

The new U.S.-India nuclear cooperation pact is complicating the Bush administration’s efforts to rally international pressure against Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons programs.

Critics of the India deal in Congress and among arms-control activists say the concessions President Bush granted to India in the nuclear deal signed Thursday in New Delhi make it harder to preserve a united front against Tehran’s efforts to build atomic bombs.

Some lawmakers in Congress, which must approve parts of the India deal, say the bad precedent it sets for Iran and other rogue states seeking nuclear weapons is enough to kill the accord.

The India deal “empowers the hawks in every rogue nation to put their nuclear plans on steroids now that they can no longer be isolated,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat and co-chairman of the congressional task force on nonproliferation.

The 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), an informal collection of the top suppliers of nuclear technology, will also consider the India accord at an upcoming meeting, a German Foreign Ministry spokesman said yesterday.

The NSG would have to lift its own embargo on India to allow member countries to sell sensitive technology and equipment to New Delhi.

Negotiators from Iran and the European Union, meeting briefly yesterday in Vienna, Austria, announced they had once again failed to reach a deal on halting Iran’s program to enrich uranium, a key step in the bomb-making process.

The impasse sets the stage for a Monday meeting of the board of the 35-nation International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog, a meeting that could clear the way for U.N. Security Council action to sanction Tehran.

But Reuters news agency reported that Russia still is pushing a compromise that would allow Iran to pursue a more limited enrichment-research program over time.

The State Department confirmed yesterday that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be in Washington early next week, with the Iran question a key topic on the agenda.

According to an unidentified diplomat at the Vienna talks yesterday, Mr. Lavrov will present to U.S. officials a compromise plan between the Europeans and Iran that would allow Tehran to run a scaled-down uranium-enrichment program.

For years, Europe and the United States have opposed allowing Iran any kind of enrichment capability.

Such a compromise could leave Washington facing near-isolation diplomatically after months of building a consensus that led the IAEA’s 35-nation board to put the U.N. Security Council on alert about Iran’s nuclear program.

In New Delhi on Wednesday, Mr. Bush agreed to end a long ban on U.S. nuclear cooperation with India, which never signed the international treaty on nonproliferation, in exchange for an Indian pledge to put its civilian nuclear facilities under international monitoring.

Mr. Bush hailed the potential of closer U.S.-India ties to transform the region and world in a speech at the end of his three-day visit yesterday.

The United States and India, which had cool relations throughout the Cold War years, “are closer than ever before, and the partnership between our free nations has the power to transform the world,” the president said.

Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, who hammered out the final details of the nuclear accord just hours before Mr. Bush arrived in India, said in an interview with the International Herald Tribune that comparisons with the Iranian nuclear program were “ludicrous.”

Michael Green, who helped prepare much of the India agenda before leaving the National Security Council in December, said the New Delhi deal “gives Iran a good talking point.”

But he added the spinoff effects of closer U.S.-India ties will be “profound,” and will bring India firmly into the camp of nations seeking to contain the spread of nuclear weapons.

Iran’s negotiators are already citing the India deal in a bid to divert the U.S.-led pressure campaign.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, said Iranians resented the fact that India and Israel have not been punished for their military nuclear programs, while Iran cannot pursue what he said were peaceful civilian nuclear efforts.

The India deal faces an uncertain future in Congress, with many lawmakers saying they still must see the fine print on what safeguards Mr. Bush was able to obtain over India’s extensive nuclear facilities.

Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, said he would like to support the agreement as a path to a better U.S.-India relationship, but added, “The devil is in the details.”

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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