The U.S. Senate has approved a landmark agreement to end a 34-year ban on U.S. civilian nuclear trade with India. The 86 to 13 vote, coming four days after the House of Representatives endorsed the pact, hands President Bush a key foreign policy victory in his remaining months in office. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
The agreement offers India, which has never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty and conducted nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998, access to U.S. civilian nuclear technology. In return, India has agreed to open its non-military nuclear sites to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Supporters say the agreement, which will help India meet its rising energy needs and provide lucrative business to U.S. companies, seals a strategic partnership with the world's largest democracy and growing economic power.
"This bill enables the United States and India to chart a new course in relations between our two great democracies. There are compelling geopolitical reasons to move forward with this relationship. India has become a major actor in the world," said Senator Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, led the floor debate on the agreement. The comments were echoed by Senator Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican. "This is one of the most important strategic, diplomatic initiatives undertaken in the last decade. By concluding this pact, the United States has embraced a long-term outlook that will give us new diplomatic options and improve global stability."
But critics argued that the deal would undermine nonproliferation efforts. They said the extra fuel the accord provides could boost India's nuclear arsenal by freeing up its domestic uranium for weapons.
"The bill before us will almost certainly expand the production of nuclear weapons by India," said Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat.
Opponents also said the deal would undermine U.S. efforts to curtail Iran's nuclear program, and could spark a global arms race.
"In a circumstance where India has not signed the nonproliferation treaty, not only are we sending the wrong signal to Iran, which is a signatory and desires to have its own nuclear program, but we are also sending the wrong signal to North Korea, to Pakistan, to Israel, those three countries are not signatories to the Nonproliferation treaty, and they have detonated nuclear weapons," said Senator Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat.
An amendment that would have required the United States to end its nuclear cooperation with India if New Delhi detonates a nuclear weapon was voted down. Supporters of the agreement said the amendment was unnecessary, arguing that nuclear trade would certainly be halted in such a circumstance.