A Bush administration proposal for aiding India’s civilian nuclear program has come under attack from a bipartisan group of former proliferation officials, who fear it would undermine U.S. efforts to halt the spread of atomic weapons.
The proposal would require major changes in U.S. law because India has developed and successfully tested nuclear weapons, setting off a nuclear arms race with rival Pakistan.
Pakistan has asked that any changes to U.S. law to accommodate the deal not be “India-specific” so they can benefit other countries as well.
In a letter to Congress, a bipartisan group of 18 specialists and former officials said the administration’s proposal was “damaging” to the international nonproliferation regime and warned members against ratifying the deal in its present form.
“The proposal for civil nuclear cooperation with India poses far-reaching and potentially adverse implications for U.S. nuclear non-proliferation objectives and promises to do little in the long run to bring India into closer alignment with other U.S. strategic objectives,” the Nov. 18 letter said.
The proposed agreement “may also undermine our ability to win necessary international support for persuading Iran to abandon its fuel-cycle plans and to make its nuclear program fully transparent” to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it said.
Signers of the letter include Republicans Henry S. Rowen and Henry Sokolski, former senior Pentagon officials, and Democrats John Holum and Robert J. Einhorn, formerly of the State Department.
U.S. law bars cooperation with countries that are not parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and do not allow full access and surprise inspections by the IAEA to ensure that their nuclear cycle is not used for military purposes.
“So far, India has pledged only to accept voluntary safeguards over ‘civilian’ nuclear facilities of its choosing,” the letter said.
“This could allow India to withdraw any nuclear facility from IAEA safeguards for national security reasons,” it said. “Such an arrangement would be purely symbolic and would do nothing to prevent the continued production of fissile material for weapons by India.”
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday that U.S. officials there were examining the letter.
“We look forward to discussing their concerns with them, including members of the House of Representatives and members of the Senate,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we think that the majority will see that this is the right deal for America, as well as for global nonproliferation efforts.”
The cooperation agreement was announced during President Bush’s July 18 meeting with visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Congress has held three hearings on the deal — two in the House International Relations Committee and one in Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“An important component of this agreement would be the eventual separation of the Indian civilian and military nuclear programs,” Mr. McCormack said.
Jehangir Karamat, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, said in an interview that any changes in U.S. law to make the India deal possible also should benefit other countries.
“If this does go through, we would hope that the legislation is not India-specific, that the United States is seen as going out on a limb for just one country,” he said. “If the same terms were open to other qualifying countries, that would give it more balance in our eyes.”
David R. Sands contributed to this article.