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Bush Administration Urges Swift Congressional Approval Of US-India Nuclear Pact


A senior U.S. State Department official Thursday urged members of Congress to approve a U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement before the House and Senate adjourn next week ahead of November elections. But some lawmakers are concerned the accord could undermine global nonproliferation efforts. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

The accord offers India, a declared nuclear state, access to U.S. civilian nuclear technology while opening non-military Indian nuclear sites to international inspections.

In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns says the agreement is key to advancing a common strategic vision with the world's largest democracy and an emerging economic power.

But some lawmakers have strong concerns about the pact, chiefly that the extra fuel the accord provides could boost India's nuclear arsenal by freeing up its domestic uranium for weapons. "I am still concerned that this deal seriously undermines nonproliferation efforts, and could contribute to an arms race that would have global implications," said Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat.

Undersecretary Burns responded by saying that "there is no perfect guarantee, as you know. But our conviction is that by moving in this direction, we are deepening the incentive for India to focus on civilian nuclear energy and deepening its incentive to continue to move into the mainstream of the nonproliferation regime."

Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the committee, sought clarification on whether the deal would be terminated if India tested a nuclear device.

"While India maintains a sovereign right to test, we most certainly maintain a sovereign right to respond. We believe the Indian government intends to uphold the continuation of the test moratorium it committed to in 2005," Burns replied.

Burns recalled Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's statement in 2006 that should India test nuclear weapons, the agreement would be called off.

If the House and Senate do not approve the accord this month, lawmakers could return for a so-called lame duck session after the November 4 elections to act on the measure. If no action is taken, the agreement would await consideration by a new Congress and president, but it is not clear whether the pact would continue to be a priority.

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