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Rice Heads to India After Congressional Victory on Nuclear Deal

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flies to India on Friday after helping secure a foreign policy victory for the Bush administration with Senate approval of the U.S.-India nuclear cooperation accord. Rice is also scheduled to visit Kazakhstan during the brief foreign trip. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The 86 to 13 U.S. Senate vote late Wednesday ended a difficult legislative process in Washington and New Delhi for the nuclear deal, which Rice says will be a cornerstone for a new relationship.

The agreement opens India's non-military nuclear facilities to international inspections and clears the way to U.S. sales of nuclear fuel and technology to India, even though it has tested weapons and not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Indian government barely survived a parliamentary confidence vote over the deal in July, while the Bush administration had to overcome heavy initial resistance to the accord in Congress and by international nuclear agencies.

At a State Department celebration on Thursday, Rice hailed the agreement as a historic breakthrough.

"It is an agreement that cements an effort that we've been making for some time to bring together the world's largest democracy with the world's oldest continuous democracy," said Secretary Rice. "And we believe that the relationship between the United States and India is on a very firm footing, and that can only be good for democracy and it can only be good for the world."

Rice was joined at the event by Congressional leaders, including Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd, who helped overcome misgivings among Democrats about the non-proliferation implications of the accord.

Dodd, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the political importance of the accord transcends the nuclear issue.

"There has been this sort of unspoken but realized tension over the past 35 years or so that we needed to get beyond," said Senator Dodd. "And certainly, given the neighborhood in which India resides, given the tremendous issues that this century is going to pose for those who come long after we've finished our work here, this agreement will serve, I think, as a foundation, a bedrock, for these two great democracies."

Senate approval did not end U.S. criticism of the accord, with the head of Washington's private Arms Control Association, Daryl Kimball, calling it a "non-proliferation disaster".

Opponents say the deal creates an exception from non-proliferation scrutiny for India, and that it sets a bad precedent amid efforts to get Iran to end a nuclear program that is believed weapons related.

But Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher says the accord is a unique agreement based on an exemplary Indian record on nuclear issues, as opposed to across-the-board Iranian violations of commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"It's really based on India's track record and India's track record on non-proliferation is very good," said Richard Boucher. "India has been a responsible member of the international nuclear community in terms of their own controls. They've put in more controls and more responsible behavior, more commitments as they've negotiated this agreement. And I think the India agreement stands on its own."

Boucher brushed aside a call on Thursday by Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for a similar nuclear agreement with Washington, saying the United States will help Pakistan with its own energy needs, but "in a different way".