March 3, 2006
Bush Likely to Face Opposition on Atomic Deal With India
By STEVEN R. WEISMAN
WASHINGTON, March 2 — In concluding its nuclear deal with India, the Bush
administration faces significant opposition in Congress and tough questions
from its allies on whether the arrangement could set a precedent encouraging
the spread of nuclear weapons to Iran and other potential foes of the United
But Bush administration officials expressed confidence on Thursday that they
could overcome the skepticism of the critics, in part because support is
nearly universal in the West and among Republicans and Democrats in
Washington for building India's strength as a bastion of democracy and a
counterweight to China in Asia.
The Defense Department issued an unusually explicit statement hailing the
deal for opening a path for more American-Indian military cooperation.
"Where only a few years ago, no one would have talked about the prospects
for a major U.S.-India defense deal, today the prospects are promising,
whether in the realm of combat aircraft, helicopters, maritime patrol
aircraft or naval vessels," the Defense Department statement said.
Diplomats familiar with the negotiations with India said Britain, France,
Germany and probably Russia would eventually line up to support the
agreement, in part because it would clear the way for them to sell nuclear
fuel, reactors and equipment to India. They would not agree to be
identified, because several countries have yet to signal what stance they
More skepticism is expected from China, several diplomats said, because
India has made little secret of its desire for a nuclear weapons arsenal to
counter Beijing and its longtime ally, Pakistan.
Critics of the deal in Congress and abroad are certain to focus on what they
maintain is a double standard embraced by the Bush administration: in
effect, allowing India to have nuclear weapons and still get international
assistance but insisting that Iran, North Korea and other "rogue states" be
given no such waiver.
But administration officials insisted there was no double standard.
"The comparison between India and Iran is just ludicrous," R. Nicholas
Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, said Thursday in
a telephone interview. "India is a highly democratic, peaceful, stable state
that has not proliferated nuclear weapons. Iran is an autocratic state
mistrusted by nearly all countries and that has violated its international
What has emerged on Capitol Hill is an alliance of conservative Republicans,
who are concerned that the deal will encourage Iranian intransigence, and
liberal Democrats, who charge that the Bush administration has effectively
scrapped the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
This bipartisan skepticism is unusual, producing for example cooperation
between a liberal Democrat, Representative Edward J. Markey of
Massachusetts, and a conservative Republican, Representative Henry J. Hyde
of Illinois, chairman of the House International Relations Committee.
Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Indiana Republican who leads the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, has raised more than 80 questions about the
deal that he says need to be answered before it can be approved.
"People are worried about the precedent of establishing a full-fledged
cooperation with India while we're wagging our finger at North Korea and
Iran," said a Republican aide on Capitol Hill, who requested anonymity
because he was describing matters still being weighed in private
discussions. "But it's also true that India is facing an energy crisis, and
we can't ignore that problem either."
The negotiated accord announced Thursday by President Bush and Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi is aimed at removing the ban
effectively imposed by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty on the sale of
fuel and civilian nuclear technology to India, in return for India's
agreement to put its civilian reactors under international inspections.
India, the negotiators agreed, will be able not only to retain its nuclear
arms program but to keep a third of its reactors under military control,
outside international inspection, including two so-called fast-breeder
reactors that could produce fuel for weapons.
The accord would also allow India to build future breeder reactors and keep
them outside international inspections. A fast-breeder reactor takes spent
nuclear fuel and processes it for reuse as fuel or weapons. American
officials negotiating with India over the last several months failed to get
India to put its current and future breeder reactors under civilian control.
But the accord would allow India to buy equipment and materials for only
those new reactors that are to be used for civilian purposes.
India's refusal to put all its breeder reactors under civilian control was
seen in New Delhi as a matter of pride and sovereignty. Mr. Singh, who
reiterated the need for India's autonomy in nuclear matters, faces pressure
from his governing coalition, which includes the Communist Party and other
India's nuclear program has previously mixed civilian and military purposes.
But the accord announced in New Delhi would place 14 of India's 22 nuclear
reactors under civilian inspection regimes by 2014. The phase-in and the
possibility that breeder reactors may never come under such a regime have
drawn fire from critics.
"This deal not only lets India amass as many nuclear weapons as it wants, it
looks like we made no effort to try to curtail them," said George Perkovich,
vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International
Peace. "This is Santa Claus negotiating. The goal seems to have been to give
away as much as possible."