Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Bush Signs U.S.-India Nuclear Agreement

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Bush Signs U.S.-India Nuclear Agreement

Article excerpt

On Dec. 18, 2006, President George W. Bush signed legislation passed by Congress allowing India to receive U.S. nuclear technology, materials and other related assistance to expand its civilian nuclear program. The president's hope is that, by boosting India's much-needed energy resources and thereby bolstering its economy, the U.S. can help build India into a regional superpower to counterbalance China.

Before the agreement can take effect, three requirements must be met: 1) India must reach an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for opening up its nuclear facilities for inspections; 2) Washington and Delhi need to work out the technical aspects of their nuclear trade agreement; and 3) the agreement must be accepted by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a self-described "group of nuclear supplier countries which seeks to contribute to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons through the implementation of guidelines for nuclear exports and nuclear-related exports."

While these may not be insurmountable steps, it may still take a year or so for wheels to start rolling.

Critics in both countries point out that, of its 22 nuclear sites, India has identified 14 as being for civilian use, with the rest dedicated to its military weapons program. Once its civilian component receives U.S. assistance, India's military program will be free to continue developing with no restraint. It is estimated that India will be able to produce enough fuel to make 40 to 50 weapons per year.

Others worry that by making an exception of India-which has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)-the deal may encourage other countries to expand their civilian programs, and also increase their nuclear weapons ambitions. Whether the deal will kill three decades of efforts to safeguard the NPT, only time will tell.

Some Indian scientists fear that the agreement will allow the U.S. to snoop into, and frustrate, India's nuclear weapons program. In the opinion of Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, however, "This is a great event for the Indians." Quoted in the Dec. 19 Press Trust of India, Burns added that the agreement corrects the missed opportunities of the past 30 years and straightens out the relationship between the two democracies. Burns was due to visit India to work out the modalities of the agreement.

India's Congress Government Woos Minorities

A year ago, on March 9, 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress Party government appointed a committee headed by former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court Rajinder Sachar to report on the status of India's minorities, with special reference to Muslims. On Nov. 30, the Committee submitted its report to parliament. Its findings, which were leaked to the press before the report was officially released, portray a bleak political and economic picture for the country's minorities-including its Hindu "untouchables," or Dalits.

The backwardness of the Hindu minorities is attributed to the centuries-old caste system, which even today, despite anti-discrimination laws, remains intact. As a result, thousands of Dalits (also known as "untouchables") have converted to Christianity or Buddhism. …

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