A group of prominent arms control experts has sent letters to U.S. senators urging them not to approve legislation relating to the Bush administration's nuclear deal with India unless significant changes are made to the bill. The measure is expected to come before the Senate as early as this week.
Senate action on the U.S-India nuclear cooperation agreement is a top priority for President Bush before the outgoing Republican-led Congress ends its session next month.
"On the foreign policy front we need to complete legislation that will allow us to cooperate with India on civilian nuclear technology," said President Bush.
The agreement received a boost from the Senate's top Democrat, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada.
"I think it is important that we do something with the India nuclear agreement,” he said. “This is important. India is the largest democracy in the world. We want to work with them."
Under the accord, reached during President Bush's visit to India earlier this year, India would be allowed access to U.S. civilian nuclear technology in return for a pledge to open its nonmilitary nuclear facilities to international inspections.
The House of Representatives has already approved the legislation, which would change U.S. law to allow nuclear trade with India despite its development of nuclear weapons. India has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Many arms control experts are concerned that the agreement could harm efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
But the Bush administration says the nuclear accord would strengthen nonproliferation efforts by putting a majority of India's nuclear plants under international inspections.
Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Henry Stimson Center, an independent nonprofit public policy research institute that examines security issues, sees it differently.
"Anyone who thinks in any depth about the problems of proliferation that we face will have misgivings about this deal. It is wholly unsupportable to argue, as this administration does in public, that this is a net plus for nonproliferation. It is not so," he said.
Krepon spoke Tuesday at a forum in Washington, sponsored by the Arms Control Association. The association released a letter, signed by 18 arms control advocates, that was sent to U.S. senators this week, urging them to make changes in the legislation before senate action.
The arms control experts are calling for the bill to be amended so that before nuclear cooperation begins, the United States would determine that India had stopped producing fissile material and that civil nuclear trade would not assist India's nuclear weapons program. They also are proposing that the United States end cooperation if India tests a nuclear weapon.
Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, agrees with the experts' recommendations. He told VOA he plans to introduce an amendment that will ensure that U.S. nuclear assistance to India will not be used to further develop India's nuclear weapons capability.
"Without that kind of assurance, a certification by the president that this is the case, I will not be able to support it [the accord],” he said. “I agree with the letter that there are serious concerns, and without change I am not comfortable with the agreement."
Skeptics of the nuclear accord also are concerned about India's cooperation with Iran.
Congressman Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, is calling on the Senate not to act on the legislation until it investigates weapons-related transfers between India and Iran.
In a report released this month, the Congressional Research Service says companies in India and Iran appear to have engaged in limited nuclear, chemical and missile-related transfers over the years. It notes that U.S. sanctions have been imposed on Indian companies for transfers to Iran as recently as July of this year.