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Nuclear Deal Caps India Visit

Prepared by: Esther Pan
Updated: March 2, 2006

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President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made history Wednesday by calling for "full civil nuclear energy cooperation" between the United States and India. Bush says the nuclear deal, first announced by the two leaders in July and outlined in this CFR Background Q&A, "will strengthen the security and the economy of both our nations." Yet it faces an uphill battle. It must be approved by India's Parliament, the U.S. Congress—which would have to change U.S. law to enable the deal to work—and the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group. Despite the challenges the nuclear deal faces, the agreement highlights the dramatically improved relations between the world's two largest democracies.

The nuclear deal, an effort to meet India's enormous energy needs, calls for the United States and other nations to assist India with its civilian nuclear energy program if New Delhi agrees to international safeguards and restrictions. Former U.S. Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill called the deal "a major departure for American foreign policy" at a recent CFR meeting, and compared the transformation of U.S.-India relations to the opening of U.S. relations with China or the Soviet Union. The nuclear deal is part of a wide-ranging agreement that covers U.S.-Indian cooperation on issues from security to counterterrorism to increased trade. This CFR Background Q&A explores the complex relationships between India, the United States, and China.

But the deal has generated strong resistance in India (UPI) over the requirement that India's civilian nuclear facilities be inspected by the IAEA. Indian publication The Hindu details the opposition by some of India’s leading nuclear scientists, who say the deal—which would open fourteen of India's twenty-two nuclear faciliities to international inspections—will compromise India’s national security. Others disagree. The Times of India calls the deal “a great opportunity” for India to address its long–term energy needs, saying, “India has little to lose and much to gain.” Singh said on the Charlie Rose Show that the nuclear deal will help ease uncertainty about energy supply and prices, which is hurting India's development.

The deal has also sparked controversy in the United States. George Perkovich, a leading expert on India's nuclear program, tells cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman the deal is good for U.S.-Indian relations but that the details in the draft accord were "very under-cooked and not well-considered," while arms control expert Lawrence Scheinman tells Gwertzman the deal undercuts the U.S. commitment to nonproliferation. But Seema Gahlaut of the Center for International Trade and Security argues in this brief (PDF) that the deal will encourage India to continue its program of voluntary export controls, and help strengthen global nonproliferation efforts. Gahlaut and her colleague Anupam Srivastav say India has instituted a strong system of nuclear export controls, comparable to that demanded by international treaties (PDF). But Teresita Schaffer of CSIS says much depends on the implementation of the deal, which will be difficult for both sides (PDF).

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