- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2006

Forging a stronger relationship with India is an unambiguously advantageous and astute aspect of Bush administration foreign policy. But solidifying the relationship now depends on securing congressional approval for the civil nuclear deal, what President Bush called a “necessary” and “historic” agreement that has become the centerpiece of his Indian diplomacy.

The House approved the deal 359-68 at the end of July. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 16-3 in favor of the accord in June, and it’s important that the bill be taken up in the Senate, where, by most accounts, it has enough support to pass.

The agreement would boost India’s imports, by some estimates in excess of $50 billion, and much of that business would go to U.S. firms. U.S. exports to India doubled between 2002 and 2005 (to $8 billion), and U.S. companies are hoping that India’s economy — and its imports — will continue to grow. To sustain that growth, India needs to be able to meet its increasing energy needs, and the United States should prefer that India rely on nuclear power as a clean alternative to coal power plants.

Criticism of the deal is centered on the assertion that the accord rewards India, which is not a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, at the same time that the United States is trying to punish such nuclear rogue states as Iran and North Korea. Unlike those two countries, however, India has an exemplary nonproliferation record. The agreement brings India more into the nuclear mainstream, where it belongs.

The deal will bring India’s civil nuclear program under international safeguards, which is why the agreement won the endorsement of director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradei. All future reactors, along with two-thirds of India’s current reactors, will be brought into compliance with international standards. In a practical sense, bringing some Indian nuclear reactors under international safeguards is preferable to having no Indian nuclear reactors in compliance with those safeguards.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said recently that his country would accept no changes to the original agreement. Senate discussion of the bill should be minimally influenced by Mr. Singh’s bluster. Certain political realities will prevail: Demanding India sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, for instance, is a nonstarter so long as neighboring Pakistan remains uncommitted to it. But Mr. Singh should be expected to secure approval for minor changes to a deal that, overall, clearly benefits India as well as the United States.

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