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Bush Administration Defends Nuclear Deal With India

A senior U.S. official has defended a nuclear deal with India, saying Washington has a host of reasons for pursuing it, but containing China is not one of them. His comments came Thursday, as the issue goes through contentious debate on Capitol Hill.

The United States and India made world headlines last year by announcing a nuclear deal under which India would have access to American civilian nuclear technology in return for opening its non-military nuclear facilities to international inspectors.

Congress needs to approve the accord, but it currently lacks enough support. While the issue was being hotly debated on Capitol Hill, the State Department's Philip Zelikow told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute Thursday he believes Congress will eventually approve the accord.

"I think a lot of the argument will be about what conditions people should attempt to place on it, and what the timing will be," he said. " We have some opinions about what the timing should be and what conditions should be placed on it, so that this deal still accomplishes its central objectives. We think it will go through."

India has tested a nuclear warhead, but is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The U.S. official said the Bush Administration's top priority in wanting to conclude the agreement is to establish better ties with India and, in his words, bring the South Asian nation "into the non-proliferation community."

He added that the accord should not be seen as part of any U.S. strategy to contain China, India's giant, and at times uneasy, neighbor.

"I'll simply as a footnote note that despite various press commentaries saying that this was done and these initiatives were made as a counterpoint to Chinese power, that's simply false," he added. "And historians who will go through these archives will be puzzled at the omission of this argument. The argument is omitted because it wasn't made."

In the House of Representatives Thursday, Congressman Tom Lantos offered compromise legislation to boost the chances that the U.S.-India deal will be approved. His proposal would delay congressional action pending conclusion of negotiations on the details of the agreement.

Zelikow said the administration looks forward to talking to Lantos about his proposal, but expressed hope that there would be no delays.

"The objectives that Congressman Lantos is seeking, we think can be obtained in the framework of the existing legislation, without delaying action and creating still more legislative hurdles," he explained. "But obviously, we're both trying to get at the same objectives, and we're now working on tactics and choreography."

Meanwhile, the U.S. official urged more action as well in New Delhi, where the agreement is also awaiting parliamentary approval.