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U.S., India Agree on Civilian Nuclear Energy Cooperation


President Bush has agreed to allow India access to civilian nuclear technology in exchange for India’s pledge to place its civilian nuclear program under international monitoring. The deal, subject to approval by the U.S. Congress and a consortium of more than 40 nuclear-technology-exporting countries, was announced during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s high-profile visit to Washington last month. The agreement would exempt India from the rules of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a 187-nation pact forbidding any country outside the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China to possess nuclear weapons.

The NPT pact, which India has refused to sign, bars sales of nuclear technology to any country that breaks the treaty or refuses to join. Critics of the agreement see India’s potential exemption from the rules as a dangerous precedent.

Speaking with host Judith Latham on VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Chidanand Rajghatta, foreign editor of the Times of India, said the benefits of allowing India into the legal nuclear trade outweigh the risks. According to Mr. Rajghatta, it is within the strategic interests of the U.S. to help India divert its energy dependence from foreign oil, mostly coming from the Middle East, to nuclear-produced fuels. Furthermore, the United States will directly profit from the sales of civilian nuclear technology and, more importantly, India could become a nuclear-armed pro-U.S. counterweight to China.

But the deal is unfair to Pakistan, a country in perpetual competition with India, according to Khalid Hasan, Washington correspondent for the Daily Times, an English-language newspaper based in Lahore. Mr. Hasan said Pakistan should also be given access to civilian nuclear technology, as it is equally energy starved and has played a leading role in the war against terrorism. The difference, according to Mr. Rajghatta of the Times of India, is that India has an impeccable record of nonproliferation compared with Pakistan, which became known as the “Walmart of nuclear technology” for selling nuclear supplies to North Korea, Iran, and Libya throughout the 1990’s.

Nonetheless, Mr. Hasan said, the agreement weakens the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and generally sends a message to other countries that the treaty’s rules can be relaxed. By excluding Pakistan, but not India, from the legal nuclear trade, Mr. Hasan warned, the United States is prodding Pakistan into seeking its own nuclear accommodations. After all, Mr. Hasan said, Pakistan is “not exactly friendless.”

While the controversial agreement sets a new high-water mark in U.S.-Indian relations, Jehangir Pocha, a correspondent in China for the Boston Globe, said the United States should not take India’s friendship for granted. Considering that India and China have “close ties of mutual benefit,” Mr. Pocha said the United States needs to begin seeing India, and other emerging nations, as independent actors on an expanding world stage, and not simply as counterweights to each other in a zero-sum alliance system.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.

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