Without providing many technical details, Washington and New Delhi released a joint statement Friday saying they've completed negotiations on a deal that would open the doors for U.S. and Indian firms to participate in each other's civilian nuclear energy sector — a deal, first announced in 2005, that the Bush administration says is historic.
Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns says negotiators have worked for two years and two days to reach this point — and he believes the deal complies with U.S. law.
"We believe this great historic civil nuclear agreement will become part of a new strategic partnership between our countries," Burns says. "We are ready to build that relationship with India."
The deal has many critics on Capitol Hill and among non-proliferation experts. Gary Milhollin of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control says the deal sends the wrong message to Iran.
"We tried to stop India from getting the bomb; we failed. India has the bomb; India is still building its missile program, and yet we are ready to treat India as a normal trading partner, basically because we want to make money," Milhollin says.
India never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the Bush administration argues that this deal will bring India into the fold — putting its civilian nuclear facilities under inspection for the first time. Burns says Iran, on the other hand, is an outlaw state that should get a different message from the India deal.
"It sends a message that if you behave responsibly in regards to nonproliferation and you play by the rules, you will not be penalized but will be invited to participate more fully in international nuclear trade," Burns says.
He says the United States would ask for all of its fuel and technology back if India were to conduct any nuclear weapons tests in the future.
India still must reach agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. And Congress must approve the final arrangements. Burns says he hopes that can happen in the next several months.