- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2006


The Senate yesterday overwhelmingly endorsed a plan allowing the United States to ship civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India, handing President Bush an important victory on one of his top foreign policy initiatives.

Senior lawmakers from both political parties championed the proposal, which reverses decades of U.S. anti-proliferation policy, saying it strengthens a key relationship with a friendly Asian power that has long maintained what the United States considers a responsible nuclear program. The vote was 85-12.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, called the plan “a lasting incentive” for India to shun future nuclear weapons tests and “to cooperate closely with the United States in stopping proliferation.”

Mr. Bush, in a statement issued during a trip to Asia, praised the Senate for endorsing his plan, saying it will “bring India into the international nuclear nonproliferation mainstream and will increase the transparency of India’s entire civilian nuclear program.”

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, said the endorsement pushes America “a giant step closer” to a “major shift in U.S.-Indian relations. “If we are right, this shift will increase the prospect for stability and progress in South Asia and in the world at large,” he said.

Even with the strong approval by the Senate, however, several hurdles loom before India and the United States could begin civil nuclear trade.

Lawmakers in the House, which overwhelmingly endorsed the plan in July, and the Senate must now reconcile their versions into a single bill before the next congressional session begins in January. That bill would then be sent to Mr. Bush for his signature.

Critics argued that the plan would ruin the world’s nonproliferation regime and boost India’s nuclear arsenal. The extra civilian nuclear fuel that the deal would provide, they say, could free India’s domestic uranium for use in its weapons program. Pakistan and China could respond by increasing their nuclear stockpiles, sparking a regional arms race.

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, called the agreement “a horrible mistake” that “provides a green light” for India to produce more nuclear weapons. “I believe one day we will look back at this with great regret.”

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