- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2006

When the House of Representatives votes today on civil nuclear cooperation with India, President Bush, marching hand-in-hand with Congress, will be a step closer to a foreign policy trophy commensurable with Nixon’s opening to China: a flourishing strategic partnership with India. Cementing this partnership would overcome decades of unrealistic and futile attempts to force India to abandon its nuclear arsenal while sandwiched between two nuclear-armed rivals.

The House International Relations Committee earlier voted by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of 37-5 to approve the civil nuclear cooperation bill (H.R. 5682), and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved a companion bill by 16-2. The terms of the legislation have been scrupulously crafted in a collaborative endeavor between the executive and legislative branches to answer nonproliferation concerns, among other issues.

Civil nuclear cooperation with India would catalyze alignment of the two great democracies for the 21st century. Prospects for enactment are sanguine during the 106th Congress. It demonstrates how much a president can accomplish in foreign and national security affairs if Congress gets a ticket for the take-off as well as for the landing, to borrow from former Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, Michigan Republican.

Virtually every member of Congress understands the centrality of India to U.S. national security interests. India appreciates the horror of international terrorism because it has suffered on a scale reminiscent of September 11, 2001: hundreds of casualties recently in Mumbai from bombs planted on six commuter trains; an attack on India’s parliament; and recurrent horrors in Kashmir.

When India’s prime minister addressed the U.S. Congress last year, he vowed: “We must fight terrorism wherever it exists, because terrorism anywhere threatens democracy everywhere.” During a return trip to India, President Bush responded: “He is right. And so America and India are allies in the war against terror.”

India generally supports the U.S. over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, peace in the Middle East, reconstruction of Afghanistan, and spread of democracy in Nepal and elsewhere. The two countries are co-founders of the Global Democracy Initiative.

India is a secular democracy, featuring religious pluralism. It is a majority Hindu nation with a Muslim president, a Sikh prime minister, and a Christian leader of its largest political party. Its permanent interests on energy, free enterprise, the environment and nonproliferation, and a balance of power in Asia converge with those of the United States.

The U.S-India strategic partnership has been frustrated more than 30 years by a rigid statutory prohibition on sharing civil nuclear technology with India, whereas sharing is permitted with China and other less friendly or responsible nations. India has felt estranged and demeaned. The pending legislation would pluck the “cinder in the eye” of the U.S.-India relationship on terms eminently fair to both.

India would join the international nonproliferation framework. It would place all of its civilian reactors under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections to prevent diversion of nuclear assistance to military use. It would upgrade its export controls on missile and nuclear technology to the standards of the Missile Technology Control Regime and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. It would continue its moratorium on nuclear testing, and negotiate in tandem with the United States a multilateral Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.

The legislation has elicited the enthusiastic support of two directors general of the IAEA, the G-8, and Great Britain, France and Russia. IAEA Director General and Nobel Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei has effused: “The agreement… would bring India closer as an important partner in the nonproliferation regime. It would be a milestone, timely for ongoing efforts to consolidate the nonproliferation regime, combat nuclear terrorism and strengthen nuclear safety.”

Contrary to detractors, the prospective U.S.-India civil nuclear cooperation has not diminished international opposition to the nuclear adventurism of Iran or North Korea. It has not provoked any nation to consider withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, because the legislation harmonizes with its terms and objectives. It has not ignited an arms race in South Asia.

By any sensible nonproliferation measure, the legislation for civil nuclear cooperation with India will make the world safer. India’s already commendable export control record would further improve. It has not proliferated to third countries, unlike the A.Q. Khan network. Its indigenous development of nuclear weapons was consistent with its international obligations and an understandable response to the NPT’s tilt in favor of five defined nuclear-weapons states: China, Russia, the United States, Great Britain and France. And nuclear assistance to India’s civilian sector will not “free up” indigenous uranium to boost its military arsenal because India’s uranium reserves are enough for both programs, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has told Congress.

In sum, to vote for civil nuclear cooperation with India is to vote on the right side of history, for nonproliferation, and in the U.S. supreme national interests.

Tom Pickering and Frank Wisner are former U.S. ambassadors to India.

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