- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

The proposed U.S.-India nuclear deal will not open the door for Iran and other rogue states to acquire atomic weapons and technology, the Bush administration’s lead negotiator insisted yesterday.

“We don’t see the connection between what Iran is doing and what India seeks to do,” Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said at the Heritage Foundation.

The administration has begun selling the India deal in earnest on Capitol Hill, where several top lawmakers are either cool to the accord or openly skeptical.

Mr. Burns, speaking five days after helping nail down the deal in New Delhi, rejected critics’ assertions that bending the rules for India — which has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — will make it more difficult to rally opposition against Tehran.

Mr. Burns said Iran’s Islamic regime was an “autocratic state” that hid its nuclear programs from international inspectors for nearly two decades. Iran enjoys “no trust in the international community.”

India, however, is a peaceful democracy that, under theagreement, would place 14 of its 22 nuclear reactors under monitoring and inspection by the United Nations.

“We think these are two countries that are going in diametrically opposed directions,” he said. “India in the responsible one; Iran is the irresponsible one.”

South Korean analysts also have warned that the India agreement could complicate the multilateral effort to pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs.

Administration officials conceded they have a major selling job to do on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers complained that they had been given little notice when the agreement was floated in the summer.

Key Republican lawmakers such as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde of Illinois have taken a wait-and-see stance, saying they needed to examine the details of the New Delhi deal.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, California Republican, said sharing U.S. nuclear expertise would help train a generation of researchers in India who could help the country’s military nuclear programs — which are not covered by the accord.

“This thing has to be looked at very, very carefully,” he told ABC’s “This Week” Sunday. “I’m very, very skeptical.”

The administration is scheduling briefings for members and staff on Capitol Hill. Congress must amend several U.S. nonproliferation statutes to implement the accord.

Mr. Burns did not rule out a parliamentary maneuver in which the agreement would go into effect unless the House and Senate voted to kill it.

“We’re very open to Congress on how to proceed,” he said, adding that the process could take several months.

Although more than a third of India’s nuclear reactors will not be subject to U.N. oversight under the accord, Mr. Burns said India had agreed that all future nuclear sites devoted to civilian power also would be automatically covered and monitored. U.S. officials had been told that the “great majority” of India’s nuclear activity in the coming years will be on the civilian side.

The percentage of India’s nuclear work subject to international controls will be “much broader by the year 2020,” he said.

But India insisted on the right to designate which of its sites would be for civilian and which for military uses. That, critics say, allows India to build so-called fast-breeder nuclear reactors that could accelerate the country’s bomb-making potential and upset the military balance with rival Pakistan.

In New Delhi yesterday, Indian officials pressed visiting Australian Prime Minister John Howard to end a ban on sales of uranium to India in the wake of the U.S. deal. Australia has the world’s largest uranium deposits but does not sell to countries that have not signed the NPT.

Mr. Howard called the U.S.-India accord “very significant” but said his government “was not going to suddenly change” its policy on uranium exports.

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