US President George W. Bush, in a dramatic policy shift, on Monday promised India full cooperation in developing its civilian nuclear-power program without demanding that it sign a major nuclear arms control treaty.
A statement released after talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that underscored Washington's recognition of India as a rising power said that Bush would ask Congress to change US law and work with allies to adjust international rules to allow nuclear trade with India.
Washington had barred providing atomic technology to India because of New Delhi's status as a nuclear power that had refused to sign the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, which was designed to halt the spread of nuclear weapons.
But the joint statement said: "As a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology, India should acquire the same benefits and advantages as other states."
Bush would "seek agreement from Congress to adjust US laws and policies, and the US will work with friends and allies to adjust international regimes to enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India," it said.
India, which tested a nuclear weapon in 1998, agreed to identify and separate its civilian and military nuclear programs, continue a moratorium on nuclear testing and place civilian nuclear facilities under the UN nuclear watchdog.
But these are all voluntary, not legal, commitments and India remains outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation treaty.
Proliferation experts were quick to protest. Many are concerned about the expanding US cooperation with India, saying it sets a bad example for Iran, a Non-proliferation Treaty member, and North Korea.
Some members of Congress said they would block the change.
"We cannot play favorites, breaking the rules of the non-proliferation treaty, to favor one nation at the risk of undermining critical international treaties on nuclear weapons," said Democratic Representative Ed Markey.
"The president just gave India everything it wanted. He's rewarding India despite that country's remaining outside the global NPT regime," said Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "This is the triumph of great power politics over non-proliferation policy."
Washington is eager to improve ties with the world's largest democracy, attracted by India's technology expertise, growing commercial market and strategic importance as a counterweight to China.
The joint statement was the product of months of discussion, culminating in round-the-clock negotiations that ended at noon on Monday.
The deal nearly fell apart when Washington refused India's demand for formal recognition as a nuclear-weapons state, which would have put India on a par with the five declared nuclear states -- the US, France, China, Britain and Russia, US officials and other sources said.