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Deal to boost US access to energy-hungry India


October 11, 2008

US-India Nuclear Agreement:
Deal to boost US access to energy-hungry India

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee signed a pact Friday to open up sales of civilian nuclear technology to India for the first time in three decades, reported AFP.

Nearly a week after the pair aborted a signing ceremony in New Delhi, Rice and Mukherjee signed a deal that highlights a strategic partnership not only in nuclear know-how but also in trade, defense cooperation and other areas.

Their signatures cap a three-year political rollercoaster in both countries for an agreement that lifts a ban on US-Indian civilian nuclear trade imposed after India's first nuclear test in 1974.

"Many thought this day would never come, but doubts have been silenced," Rice told a gathering of diplomats and others in Washington just before she and Mukherjee inked the document at 4:15pm (2015 GMT).

Mukherjee said the event marked an "important day for US-India relations," adding: "We have brought to fruition three years of extraordinary effort by both our governments."

The deal offers India access to US technology and cheap atomic energy in return for allowing UN inspections of some of its civilian nuclear facilities -- but not military nuclear sites.

The signing here comes after US President George W Bush signed legislation to enact the landmark agreement on Wednesday. Rice had planned to sign the deal with Mukherjee during a visit to New Delhi on October 4 but US officials said it was delayed for "administrative" reasons.

Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed the deal in July 2005, touching off a difficult battle with wary lawmakers on either side and critics who warn it undermines global efforts to curb the spread of nuclear know-how.

Further steps must be taken to open up nuclear trade.

Analysts say US firms cannot do business until Delhi signs a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage.

India last month wrote a letter of intent to sign up to the convention, which analysts says US businesses want in order to reduce their liability in the event of a catastrophe.

Rice has called the accord "a recognition of India's emergence on the global stage" while Mukherjee cited improved relations since the Cold War era, when New Delhi steered an independent course from Washington.

Rice and others had to lobby hard to win approval for the deal from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which controls global atomic trade.

She also pushed hard for the agreement to be approved by both Houses of Congress.

US lawmakers attached safeguards on preventing the spread of nuclear weapons technology before passing it overwhelmingly earlier this month and handing Bush a foreign policy success.

But critics say it still undermines global efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons, because India has refused to sign the international non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

Singh also had a rough ride over the deal at home: The main opposition Hindu nationalists and the Communists have both slammed it as curbing India's military options and bringing the country's foreign policy too much under US influence.

Washington says India will be able to satisfy its booming economy's thirst for energy while curbing its dependence on fossil fuels linked to climate change, while the United States would gain access to India's lucrative nuclear market.

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