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U.S.: Rice Urges Congress To Approve India Nuclear Deal

Condoleezza Rice (file photo) (AFP) India and the United States had strained relations during the Cold War, but now Washington is seeking to improve those ties. Last month, U.S. President George W. Bush went to New Delhi to work out details of an agreement under which the United States would provide civilian nuclear technology to India, and India would submit its civilian nuclear facilities to inspections by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency. The deal still must be approved by the U.S. Congress, and some members have expressed concern, saying it could lead to weapons proliferation or at least an arms race with neighboring Pakistan, which also has nuclear weapons. At the very least, they warn that the deal could send the wrong message at a time when the United States is demanding an end to the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea. On April 5, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went before Congress in an effort to ease their concerns.

WASHINGTON, April 6, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Rice told Congress the deal, if approved, would be a major economic benefit to India and the United States, and would in no way threaten world stability.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rice said India would be able use nuclear power to fuel its rapidly growing economy, thus freeing itself of dependence on foreign oil, particularly oil from Iran. And Americans, she said, would be the beneficiaries of thousands of new jobs related to nuclear trade with India.

Rice also said India has an admirable record on nonproliferation, unlike Pakistan, and that there is no reason to expect it to change even after it begins receiving U.S. help on its nuclear program.

She dismissed fears of an arms race, again citing India's record so far. And she said the deal wouldn't conflict with strong U.S. opposition to the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea.

"While Iran and North Korea are violating their [International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA] obligations, India is making new obligations by bringing it -- the IAEA -- into the Indian program and seeking peaceful international cooperation. Iran and especially North Korea are, of course, closed, nondemocratic societies," Rice said. "India is a democracy. In fact, India is increasingly doing its part to support the international community's efforts to curb the dangerous nuclear ambitions of Iran."
"As I understand it, you want the agreement approved before we know what the safeguard arrangements are." -- Senator Paul Sarbanes

Many in Congress support the deal, but some, including prominent supporters, are urging the administration to reconsider strengthening it.

One such supporter is Senator Barbara Boxer (Democrat-California). She noted that India has some military ties with Iran, and asked Rice if Washington plans to demand that those ties be broken as a condition for the deal.

Rice responded that the military relationship between the two countries was on what she called a "low level." In any case, she said, the United States has expressed its concern about it.

Boxer expressed incredulity, especially in light of the proposed nuclear agreement. She said mere concern was inadequate. "I have concerns when my kids do the wrong things, but I don't just tell them, I have some action that follows it up," she said. "So I just think your words are a bit hollow, specifically on this matter."

President George W. Bush (left) and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, March 2 (epa)

Another senator, Paul Sarbanes (Democrat-Maryland), said it appeared that the Bush administration was trying to have Congress ratify the deal, yet at the same time denying Congress's oversight role in approving the security of Indian nuclear facilities that is a condition of the agreement.

"As I understand it, for example, you want the agreement approved before we know what the safeguard arrangements are," he said. "And the answer to that is: 'Well, the president will know what the safeguard arrangements are because he won't -- it [the agreement] can't go into place until he makes the determination that the safeguard regime is adequate.' But shouldn't there be a congressional determination that the safeguard regime is adequate?"

Rice replied that the IAEA also would know in advance what precautions were being taken. Sarbanes said he didn't believe Congress should surrender its oversight goal to the UN agency.

Perhaps the most serious concern from a supporter of the agreement was expressed by Senator Joseph Biden (Democrat-Delaware), the vice chairman of the committee. He told Rice that to enter into the agreement, the United States must have faith that India wouldn't see it as an opportunity to greatly enlarge its nuclear arsenal.

If it did, Biden said, it would shatter the hopes that the world will break from the militarism that characterized the past century.

"I respectfully suggest if this goes through and we are wrong about their [India's] intentions, that they will have 'mortgaged' the 21st century, literally, in a way that few nations will be held accountable for having done," he said. "They will have squandered -- I don't anticipate this, but they will have squandered -- what I think to be is an opportunity to begin to build a new century. I mean, I literally think it's that fundamental. And it relates to trust."

Biden noted that India is not part of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. He expressed hope that if the agreement is approved, India would adhere to an arms treaty that it never signed.