- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 2, 2008

VIENNA, Austria | The International Atomic Energy Agency on Friday adopted a plan for inspecting India’s reactors, moving New Delhi one step closer to a landmark nuclear deal with Washington.

The safeguards agreement with the U.N. nuclear watchdog was essential before India can finalize the pact with the United States that would end more than three decades of nuclear isolation. The deal will open India’s civilian reactors to international inspections in exchange for the nuclear fuel and technology it has been denied by its refusal to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its testing of atomic weapons.

The agreement approved by the IAEA’s 35-member board will effectively allow U.N. monitors access to 14 existing or planned Indian nuclear reactors by 2014.

Without IAEA safeguards, India cannot import nuclear technology from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which includes the United States. India must now strike a separate agreement with the NSG. The U.S. Congress will then need to approve the U.S.-India accord.

The deal is seen as the cornerstone of a budding strategic partnership between the United States and India, which was officially neutral during the Cold War but had warm relations with the Soviet Union.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said the safeguard agreement is “good for India; it’s good for the world.”

State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said the U.S. was pleased with the IAEA approval and looked forward to a “successful encounter” with the NSG.

“We believe this is important, not only for us and our bilateral relationship with India, but for rest of the world,” Mr. Gallegos said.

The U.S.-India deal is considered one of President Bush’s top foreign policy initiatives, and the administration is eager to tie up loose ends before leaving office.

Gregory L. Schulte, chief U.S. envoy to the nuclear agency, said it would strengthen nonproliferation.

“Today’s agreement represents a major step forward to opening civil nuclear cooperation with India while strengthening the world’s nonproliferation regime,” he told reporters after approval.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was “delighted” at the IAEA approval.

“This is an important day for India, and for our civil nuclear initiative for the resumption of India’s cooperation with our friends abroad,” Mr. Singh said. “As we move forward toward our goal of sustainable development and energy security, the peaceful uses of atomic energy will play an increasingly important role.”

Iran, which is under international pressure to scrap its own nuclear program because of suspicion it is aimed at producing weapons, was among those with reservations about the plan.

Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran’s top representative to the IAEA, said Tehran was seriously concerned about what he called a U.S. double standard.

Pakistan, India’s neighboring archrival, has been vocal in its opposition to the deal, but did not oppose the consensus decision by the IAEA board. In a letter to members of the nuclear agency’s board and the NSG, Pakistan said the safeguards agreement “threatens to increase the chances of a nuclear arms race in the subcontinent.”

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