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Bush Opens Door to Nuclear Help for India

US President Bush, in a dramatic policy shift, promised India full cooperation on Monday in developing its civilian nuclear power program without demanding that it sign a major nuclear arms control treaty.

A statement released after talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that underscored Washington's recognition of India as a rising power said 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 has refused to sign the nuclear Nonproliferation 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 United States 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.

'Play favorites'

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 Nonproliferation Treaty member, and North Korea (DPRK), which the White House labeled members of an "axis of evil" along with pre-war Iraq.

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 Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

"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 nonproliferation policy," he added.

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.

Singh told reporters India's "ambitious and attainable national road map" in civilian nuclear power aimed at fueling economic growth for its billion people.

Months of talks

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 -- United States, France, China, Britain and Russia, US officials and other sources said.

The statement "does not mean the United States is recognizing India as a nuclear weapons state," a senior US official said.

He predicted it may take months before the administration could secure necessary approvals from Congress and US nuclear allies, allowing nuclear cooperation with India to start.

Bush's push to help India increase its power generating capacity is being driven at least partly to give New Delhi an alternative to a proposed US$4 billion gas pipeline deal with Iran, which Washington accuses of trying to secretly develop nuclear weapons.

Singh did not get Washington's backing for its bid for a permanent seat on an expanded UN Security Council.

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Bush told Singh Washington wanted fundamental UN reforms before any expansion of the council and hoped there would be no vote on council enlargement in coming weeks.

(chinadaily.com via agencies July 19, 2005)

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