The Bush administration is defending the nuclear cooperation accord concluded Monday by President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Though India will remain outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, the NPT, U.S. officials say the bilateral accord will bring India close to treaty standards.
U.S. officials had not expected the nuclear deal, under discussion for several months, to be concluded during Prime Minister Singh's Washington visit. They are following up the surprise agreement with a round of telephone diplomacy to explain its terms to interested parties around the world including India's south Asian rival Pakistan.
The agreement, if approved by Congress and key U.S. allies, would end a ban on American nuclear technology sales to India that had long been a source of friction in bilateral relations.
India would be able to obtain nuclear reactor fuel and components from the United States and other suppliers. In return, it will allow international inspections and safeguards of its civilian nuclear program, and refrain from further nuclear weapons tests and transfers of arms technology to other countries.
The accord prompted immediate criticism from some arms control experts who said India should not be given access to the civilian technology until it signs the N.P.T.
However, at a news briefing here, Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said the nuclear controls India has agreed to accept are practically the same as those for treaty signatories.
"Obviously, it's the wish of the United States that all countries will join the Non-Proliferation Treaty," Mr. Burns said. "India has not made a decision to do that. So we deal with a situation where a partner of ours, a friendly country, a very large country with significant energy needs, is willing now to commit itself to undertake all of the quite-invasive measures to safeguard its facilities. That is a benefit, not just for the United States, it's a benefit for the non-proliferation community."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, before leaving on trip to Africa and the Middle East Tuesday, led the telephone diplomacy on the agreement with calls to International Atomic Energy agency chief Mohammed el-Baradei and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
Undersecretary Burns said Mr. el-Baradei, whose U.N. Agency oversees non-proliferation compliance, was very much supportive of the U.S.-Indian accord. Mr. Burns said Secretary Rice's message to Mr. Musharraf was that growing U.S.-Indian cooperation does not come at Pakistan's expense:
"It's very important, I think, to say again that we have this unique relationship with Pakistan, which is vital to our country in the war on terrorism," Mr. Burns said. "We have another unique and vital relationship with India. And as Secretary Rice has said many times before, there's no reason to have a hyphenated strategic framework for South Asia. Both countries are important. And there are issues where U.S. policy intersects, and there are issues where we can have individual relationships with both countries.
Mr. Burns implicitly rejected suggestions the Bush administration has adopted a strategy to accelerate India's rise to global-power status as a counterweight to China.
He said the decision by President Bush to seek a new global partnership with India, the world's largest democracy with more than a billion people, stands on its own and is not directed against any third country.