Wednesday, February 22, 2006

President Bush yesterday urged India to establish transparent safeguards to keep its civilian and military nuclear programs separate, and urged patience on a U.S.-India deal on that separation, which may not be complete before the president visits New Delhi next week.

“India first needs to bring its civilian energy programs under the same international safeguards that govern nuclear-power programs in other countries,” Mr. Bush said in a speech to the Asia Society in Washington.

“This is not an easy decision for India, nor is it an easy decision for the United States, and implementing this agreement will take time, and it will take patience from both our countries.”

The India nuclear deal has been a subject of heated debate from the moment Mr. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced it at a White House meeting in July.

The crux of the deal: The United States would end restrictions on supplying India with civilian nuclear technology, while India — which has never signed the international treaty on nuclear nonproliferation — would open its civilian nuclear sites to U.N. inspectors.

India has insisted that its military nuclear installations continue to be exempt from international scrutiny, but determining which sites should be included has proven difficult for negotiators.

U.S. lawmakers have complained of being blindsided by the deal, which will require changes to a number of U.S. nonproliferation statutes. Some private weapons analysts say the deal for India undercuts Washington’s standing to confront countries such as Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs.

“This is an awkward moment, to say the least, for the Bush administration to set a high priority to relax these rules in favor of India,” said Michael Krepon, director of the South Asia program at the Henry L. Stimson Center.

Rosen Sen, India’s ambassador to the United States, said Tuesday that while he was optimistic the two countries could complete negotiations soon, hard work remains. He pledged “with absolute certainty that the prime minister and the government of India remain committed to fulfilling their obligations.”

Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns will continue talks beginning today on the agreement with the hope of finishing negotiations before Mr. Bush leaves for New Delhi next week.

In a preview of his trip, Mr. Bush also said Americans should not be concerned that some U.S. firms are moving jobs to India.

“The area of America’s relationship with India that seems to receive the most attention is outsourcing,” he said. “But rather than respond with protectionist policies, I believe it makes sense to respond with educational polices to make sure that our workers are skilled for the jobs of the 21st century.”

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