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Bush Administration Briefs Congress on US-India Nuclear Deal

The Bush administration has been been briefing U.S. lawmakers on the contents of a just-completed nuclear energy deal with India. As VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington, the agreement still needs to be approved by the Indian parliament and the U.S. Congress.

The United States and India agreed in principle to the civilian nuclear pact two years ago, but it was not until last week that the agreement was finalized.

The pact would allow India access to U.S. nuclear fuel and equipment for the first time in 30 years, even though New Delhi has tested nuclear weapons and has refused to join international non-proliferation accords.

India's cabinet approved the pact Wednesday, but it also needs to be approved by the Indian parliament. Critics in India have objected to U.S. demands that New Delhi refrain from conducting more nuclear weapons tests and reprocessing U.S.-supplied atomic fuel.

The State Department says it is planning to publicly release details of the agreement Friday, but the deal is expected to be closely examined by the U.S. Congress.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says the Bush administration has been careful to consider both Indian interests and possible objections by lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

"This has been a process of negotiations, where we've been working with the Indian government and also back-briefing the Hill," he said.

In a possible sign of trouble for the pact, 22 U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to President Bush warning that congressional approval is, "deeply in doubt" if the agreement does not meet conditions agreed to in earlier legislation that paved the way for the agreement by altering U.S. export laws.

These conditions include no nuclear testing, permanent unconditional inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency of declared Indian nuclear materials and facilities, and an end to nuclear cooperation if the agreement is violated.

McCormack refused to say what will be publicly announced about the deal.

"I am not sure if there is anything classified to it," he added. "I am not aware that there is. I do not know what our agreements are with the Indians, in terms of publishing the text of it."

If the deal is finally approved, it would grant India nuclear rights that currently are accorded only to key U.S. allies, Japan and the European Union.