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US, India Agree on Civilian Nuclear Energy Pact

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The United States and India have agreed on a deal giving New Delhi access to U.S. nuclear fuel and equipment. VOA's André de Nesnera says the pact still has to be ratified by the U.S. Congress and approved by several international organizations before it comes into force.

U.S. and Indian officials say they have agreed on a pact allowing New Delhi access to U.S. civilian nuclear fuel and equipment for the first time in 30 years.

U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters Washington is now committed to full civil nuclear cooperation with India. He said that includes nuclear safety, commercial trade in nuclear reactors, in technology and in fuel.

Burns also said New Delhi will build a new fuel reprocessing plant under international safeguards.

"In this agreement, India has committed to safeguard in perpetuity all civil nuclear materiel and equipment and also committed that all items under this agreement will only be used for peaceful purposes," said Burns.

The U.S. official said the pact applies only to civilian nuclear reactors and not those under the control of the Indian military.

"From the beginning, the agreement was always about civil nuclear cooperation," said Burns. "The agreement does not speak to India's strategic program. And, of course, we cannot aid in the development of India's strategic program. We hope and trust that it won't be necessary for India to test in the future and we hope and trust that we can go ahead with full nuclear cooperation."

Burns made clear the pact provides India with permanent nuclear fuel supplies. But he also said Washington reserves the right to ask for all of its fuel and technology back should India test another nuclear device.

India is a nuclear power but has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty. Some critics say the new agreement with Washington will benefit India's military nuclear program and could entice other nations in the region to obtain nuclear weapons.

In an exchange with reporters, India's National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan rejected that view.

"I think it's time that certain countries overcame the belief that we are interested in proliferation," he said. "And I would make use of this opportunity to drive home this point."

Before the agreement can take effect, India must first sign an accord with the International Atomic Energy Agency on nuclear safeguards. And then the pact must be approved by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a 45-nation body that governs global nuclear trade. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said only then will the agreement go to the U.S. Congress for consideration.

Already, there are signs of opposition to the pact. Twenty-three members of the House of Representatives have sent a letter to President Bush saying congressional approval would be "deeply in doubt" if the new pact does not abide by conditions set out in earlier legislation.

These conditions include no nuclear testing -- and permanent, unconditional international safeguards governing India's civilian nuclear reactors. The U.S. lawmakers also expressed their concern over India's growing ties with Iran -- especially what they called "India's deepening military to military relationship" with Tehran.

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