Washington has asked New Delhi to declare most of its nuclear plants as civil facilities, thus making them open to international inspections in order to have India conform with most other countries that have nuclear weapons.
But India says it wants to keep the civil and military programs more integrated, thereby keeping inspectors away from sites that have shared civil and military uses.
Still, on 24 February, Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, expressed optimism that the differences between Washington and New Delhi appear to be narrowing.
"We would obviously like, and the Indians would like, to use the occasion of this [Bush] visit to reach agreement on this separation agreement, so-called," Hadley said. "We think that would be a good thing, but it's important to have a good agreement that works for the Indians, works for the United States, will be acceptable to our Congress and to the nuclear suppliers group, and that's our objective. We'd like to get it before the trip [by Bush to India]. If we can, great. If we can't, we'll continue to negotiate it after the trip."
But some in Congress say such an agreement would be meaningless. They argue that it doesn't matter if some of India's nuclear program is subject to inspections as long as it has nuclear weapons, which are not subject to scrutiny.
Deadlock In Kashmir
As difficult as the nuclear issue is, the Bush trip will also try to address other thorny issues in the region. One is Kashmir, the mountainous region over which India and Pakistan have fought two wars.
In an interview broadcast on 26 February on Pakistani television, Bush expressed optimism about the ongoing negotiations between India and Pakistan on the issue.
"In just my discussions with both the president [of Pakistan] and the prime minister, there appears to be a different attitude," Bush said. "I will use my trip to urge the leadership to continue solving this issue, with the idea that it can be solved."
That may be wishful thinking, according to Stephen Cohen, who studies South Asia at the Brookings Institution, a policy-research center in Washington. He told RFE/RL that Kashmir is far from being resolved, in part because the two sides differ over whether the negotiations can be helped with mediation from the outside, such as from the United States.
U.S. Involvement Needed Or Wanted?
Cohen said Islamabad would prefer U.S. involvement, evidently believing that eventually this would assure Pakistan the best possible outcome. India, though, would prefer to keep negotiating without international mediation.
"Their [India's] strategy is (a) to ignore the Pakistanis and (b) to negotiate with their own Kashmiri population some kind of settlement which would make Pakistan irrelevant to the dispute," Cohen said.
At least, that has been the strategy of the Indian government, according to Cohen. But he said many Indians privately wish the United States would become covertly involved in the talks, if only to press Pakistan to end its support for extremists responsible for cross-border attacks in India.
For its part, Cohen said, Pakistan would like Washington involved in the negotiations so that it could press India to give serious consideration to Pakistan's proposals on Kashmir.
This puts Bush in a difficult spot, Cohen said, and may leave the American leader with few options, especially with only two years remaining in his presidency. Cohen believes that Bush is unlikely to offend India by seeming to meddle in the Kashmir talks, at least in part because he wants India's cooperation on the nuclear agreement.
"From his [Bush's] point of view, [he'll do] probably nothing," Cohen said. "He's raised the [Kashmir] issue to mollify the Pakistanis, who are desperately eager to get America involved on their side, but I don't think he's going to actually do anything. I don't think, in the waning years of this administration, there's going to be any significant initiative."
Mostly, Cohen said, Bush will probably limit himself to supporting continued talks between India and Pakistan.
Cohen points out that Bush, an avid sports fan, during his visit to Pakistan will view a cricket match. He said the U.S. leader probably will praise what's called "cricket diplomacy" -- in which teams from the two countries compete on the field -- as helping ease political tensions.
Who's Got The Bomb?
DECLARED NUCLEAR-WEAPONS COUNTRIES:
country warheads (est.) date of first test
United States 10,500 1945
Russia 18,000 1949
United Kingdom 200 1952
France 350 1960
China 400 1964
India 60-90 1974
Pakistan 28-48 1998
North Korea 0-18 2006
Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, but it has not declared itself a nuclear-armed country.
South Africa constructed six uranium bombs but voluntarily dismantled them.
Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine all gave up the nuclear weapons that were on their territory when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.