WASHINGTON — Ending three decades of “isolation” for India, President Bush today signed path-changing legislation that will enable American firms to assist in the expansion of India’s civil nuclear power generation—opening significant new trade doors with an emerging Asian power once at odds with the United States.
The agreement represents a reversal of decades of discord with India, which developed its nuclear weaponry outside the bounds of international treaties and long stood as a Cold War ally of the Soviet Union.
“This will represent a major sea change in the way the world works,” said Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs who negotiated the deal with India. “There is a larger story here—the U.S. is making a strategic move to build a stronger relationship with India,” Burns added, suggesting that after more than three decades of adversarial relations the U.S. is “bringing India in from the cold.”
The agreement requires India to submit 14 of its nuclear reactors—and any civilian reactors built in the future—to international inspection and monitoring. It also permits India, which never joined the international treaty for non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, to keep eight military reactors private. India first tested weapons in the 1970s and as recently as 1998.
The White House and a bipartisan alliance of congressmen and senators who supported the deal maintain it acknowledges the strategic role that India, a stable democracy soon to become the world’s most populous nation, now plays in the world. The U.S. maintains that nuclear power holds a promise of making energy-thirsty India, and the world, less reliant on oil. This, in turn, could help ease pressures on world oil prices, the administration believes.
“The United States has a clear interest in helping India'” to meet its demand for energy, said Bush in signing the bill today in the East Room of the White House. He noted that India, the world’s fifth-largest consumer of energy, is expected to double its consumption of electricity in the next decade.
“Rivalries that once kept our nations apart are no more, and today India and the U.S. are united by deeply held values,”‘ Bush said. “Clean energy is going to be important to the advancement of our economies. “¦ It helps make America more secure,” he said, and “the world is going to be safer as a result.”
Critics of the arrangement, which the U.S. is offering to India alone, maintain that the U.S. is mistakenly “rewarding'” a rogue nuclear power for decades of bad behavior—offering economic incentives for the development of a nuclear power industry that India developed in defiance of international regulation. While more than 100 nations since 1970 have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires international inspection of civilian nuclear facilities, India never joined.
But the Bush administration insists that it is not only recognizing the reality of India’s need for new sources of energy, but also that India has never has traded its nuclear technology or fuel with other nations or on the black market— something of which Pakistan, Iran and North Korea have been accused.
After India last tested of nuclear weapons in 1998—an action that prompted a similar move by Pakistan—the U.S. tightened sanctions against India. But since then—and in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks against the U.S.— the American stances toward both Pakistan, now an ally in the fight against Al Qaeda, and India have dramatically shifted.
“This is a unique deal to India only,”‘ said Burns, who negotiated the deal during months of shutting between Washington and India, culminating in an agreement in New Delhi earlier this year.
Bush approved the agreement during a visit to Indian Prime Minister Mammohan Singh n March. Congress ratified it earlier this month as it neared adjournment.
“We faced a real-world problem,”‘ Burns said today. “The choice was continued isolation, which gets you nothing—or to bring India into the system. “¦ The question we had to face was this: We had isolated India for 30 years with the hope that it would give up its nuclear weapons—India is not going to do that.”
The Bush administration readily acknowledges that the opening of a new market in India holds commercial appeal for the U.S. nuclear industry, which has not built a reactor in this country since the 1970s. India is prepared to build eight new reactors.
“We think American companies like Westinghouse should have a leg up” in competing for that work, Burns said at a White House briefing. And while denying that the U.S. is interested in bolstering India’s economy as a counterweight to China in the region, he did note that India also has a need for new military weaponry. “This deal could change the strategic landscape in Asia to the benefit of the United States,” he said.