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US-India Nuclear Deal Viewed as Special Case

The United States is looking to create a strong strategic partnership with India as the South Asian country emerges as a world power. President Bush recently announced a controversial civilian nuclear agreement with India that is being debated in Congress. A panel of experts recently discussed criticism the deal rewards India for refusing to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

President Bush announced the nuclear deal during a trip to India in early March.

The proposed agreement would allow India to import U.S. nuclear technology in exchange for opening its civilian nuclear facilities to international inspections. India's nuclear-weapons program would remain secret.

State Department senior policy advisor Philip Zelikow says India is different from other non-aligned countries, and he counters the argument the U.S.-India deal would weaken the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"India really is a special case. It is an anomalous case in the history of nuclear weapons development, and we thought we needed to craft a special answer to the special case and we think that it is better for now to take that approach than to try to say we need to carve out a generic exception through which other countries we cannot currently foresee could walk through," said Zelikow.

India began openly developing nuclear weapons in the 1960s before the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was brought into force in 1970, and never signed the accord. New Delhi detonated its first nuclear device in a test in 1974. In 1998, the United States imposed sanctions against India and neighboring rival Pakistan after both countries carried out nuclear weapons tests.

But Zelikow recently told a conference at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington there is a difference between India and other countries, such as North Korea, which signed the non-proliferation treaty, then lied about developing atomic weapons.

"India was outside the regime, never lied about its intentions, and basically accepted the political responsibility and says, 'Yes, we are going to become a nuclear weapons state. We accept the political consequences of that decision,' and they had accepted it for a generation," he added. "So to the challenge that you have double standards, the answer is, 'Yes, we have double standards.' We do think that democracies that are reasonably honest about their intentions should be treated differently from dictatorships with hostile designs on their neighbors that lie and cheat."

The U.S.-India civilian nuclear agreement must be approved by the Indian Parliament and the U.S. Congress.

One thing U.S. lawmakers must do before the deal can go forward is change a law called the Atomic Energy Act that prohibits the United States from selling nuclear material or technology to countries that have not signed the non-proliferation treaty and refuse to open all of their nuclear facilities to international inspectors. India and Pakistan are in that group.

The Bush administration is pressing lawmakers to amend the law by the end of June. Officials have warned failure to approve the nuclear deal will damage U.S.-India relations and could possibly hurt U.S. interests across the region.

But Henry Sokolski of the Non-Proliferation Policy Education Center is urging Congress to make sure safeguards by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which controls nuclear exports, are in place before voting to change the law.

"The idea that our countries are somehow are going to be cut asunder because of slowing this thing down and getting all these things tied up correctly strikes me as nutty," said Sokolski. "We need to slow down and get this right. We should be in no rush to get it wrong. There is, frankly, too much at stake. This thing does constitute a non-proliferation headache if it is done incorrectly.

Congress is expected to approve the deal, even though it has yet to receive a complete draft of the accord.

Sokolski accuses the Bush administration of not wanting lawmakers to see the full deal before they vote on it.

"You have to have both houses vote by a majority that it is a good deal, and that means you have to actually see the deal. We don't have copies of the deal," he continued. "The negotiations of those deals have begun, but they are not finished. When drafts of that deal were asked for by the Hill, essentially Congress was told, 'Drop dead, we are going to use Executive Privilege to prevent you from seeing any of it.'"

Some critics say giving India a civilian nuclear deal that does not require New Delhi to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty could lead to increased nuclear tensions across Asia.

But Selig Harrison, who heads the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy, says the United States should forge strong ties with India to assure stability in the region.

"The alternative to such a partnership could be the emergence over time of, a free-wheeling India that could play an unpredictable role in Asia, the Middle East, and the Persian Gulf with uncertain consequences for U.S. security in the decades ahead" Harrison added. "A strong, stable India will advance the traditional U.S. objective of an Asian balance of power in which no one nation is able to exercise overwhelming dominance."

Congress has held several hearings on the U.S.-India nuclear agreement, and more are scheduled.