US senators voted on Wednesday to overturn a three-decade ban on atomic trade with India, giving final congressional approval to a landmark US-India nuclear cooperation accord and handing US President George W. Bush a rare foreign policy victory in his final months in office.
The Senate voted 86-13 to allow US businesses to begin selling nuclear fuel, technology and reactors to India in exchange for safeguards and UN inspections at India’s civilian — but not military — nuclear plants.
The accord, which the House of Representatives approved on Saturday, marks a major shift in US policy toward nuclear-armed India after decades of mutual wariness. It now goes to Bush for his signature.
Bush hailed the Senate’s vote, saying in a statement that the legislation approving the accord “will strengthen our global nuclear nonproliferation efforts, protect the environment, create jobs and assist India in meeting its growing energy needs in a responsible manner.”
In India, Congress party spokesman Veerappa Moily called the deal “a monumental achievement. It’s a victory of [Indian] Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government.”
Congressional approval caps an aggressive three-year diplomatic and political push by the Bush administration, which portrays the pact as the cornerstone of new ties with a democratic Asian power that has long maintained what administration officials consider a responsible nuclear program. Bush officials have also championed the opportunities for US firms to do business in India’s multibillion-dollar nuclear market.
Republican Senator Richard Lugar said the pact protects US national security and nonproliferation efforts while building “a strategic partnership with a nation that shares our democratic values and will exert increasing influence on the world stage.”
“With a well-educated middle class that is larger than the entire US population, India can be an anchor of stability in Asia and an engine of global economic growth,” Lugar said.
Opponents say lawmakers, eager to leave Washington to campaign for next month’s elections, rushed consideration of a complicated deal that would spark a nuclear arms race in Asia.
The extra fuel the measure provides, they say, could boost India’s nuclear bomb stockpile by freeing up its domestic fuel for weapons.
Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan said the accord “will almost certainly expand the production of nuclear weapons by India” and help dismantle the architecture of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the global agreement that provides civilian nuclear trade in exchange for a pledge from nations not to pursue nuclear weapons.
India built its bombs outside the NPT, which it refuses to sign.
It has faced a nuclear trade ban since its first atomic test in 1974; its most recent nuclear test blast was in 1998.