Bush Announces Nuclear Deal with India

President Bush announces an agreement with India to share nuclear reactors, fuel and expertise with the energy-starved nation in return for its acceptance of international safeguards. The plan would reverse decades of U.S. policy against nuclear cooperation with states that have not signed the nonproliferation treaty.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. A necessary agreement, one that will help both our peoples. Those are the words of President Bush today, his description of the landmark nuclear cooperation deal he signed with India's prime minister. It's likely to be the most important part of Mr. Bush's trip to South Asia, and it took place on a day filled with official ceremony and with hostile protests. NPR's Philip Reeves begins our coverage with this report from New Delhi.

Dr. MANMOHAN SINGH (Prime minister, India): I am particularly pleased that we have reached an understanding on the implementation of our agreement on civil nuclear cooperation of July 18, 2005.

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

With the dry words of a technocrat, India's Manmohan Singh ended the suspense. The U.S. and India had finally agreed on terms for a civil nuclear cooperation deal, regarded by both sides as historic.

Dr. SINGH: Thank you very much, Mr. President. We have made history today. And I thank you.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Thank you. Thank you.

REEVES: India sees the agreement as ending years as a nuclear pariah, a status it earned after building a nuclear weapons arsenal in defiance of international nonproliferation efforts. It's a rising power, and it needs far more energy sources. The deal provides access to nuclear fuel and technology from the U.S. and elsewhere for India's civilian nuclear power program.

But Mr. Bush has to persuade the U.S. Congress to change the law to accommodate the agreement. Congress appears skeptical. There are worries the deal could undermine efforts to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and perhaps make it easier for India to build more bombs, and even encourage others such as Iran and North Korea, to develop nuclear weapons. Mr. Bush today sounded hopeful he'd win through.

President BUSH: I'm confident we can sell this to our Congress as in the interests of the United States.

(Soundbite of protestors)

REEVES: Hundreds of thousands of people in several Indian cities turned out today to protest against their government's tightening of relations with Mr. Bush. There were students, farmers, Muslims, assorted political groups and notably Communists, who support India's coalition government, but not when it comes to fating the American president. Arundhati Roy, the Indian author and activist, says the demonstrations against Mr. Bush were bigger than most realized.

Ms. ARUNDHATI ROY (Indian author and activist): All over the country there's been an eruption of real anger while the corporate media just keeps on telling us about what he ate and who fed him what and did he dab his mouth with a napkin once or twice.

REEVES: Roy is responsible for sparking a debate in India about the president's visit. Today Mr. Bush, like other visiting world leaders before him, along with his wife, laid a wreath at Raj Ghat, the cremation site of Mahatma Gandhi. Roy says the president shouldn't have been there, and wrote as much in an article this week in the Hindu newspaper.

Ms. ROY: You know, the idea of somebody who has had the record of what he's done in Iraq and then to go and visit the grave of somebody who's supposed to be the memory of a nonviolent fighter is something that doesn't go down easily.

REEVES: Since the article's publication, the Hindu's letters column has been packed with letters on the issue. Some support her. Some are against.

Unidentified Woman: Millions of Indians, I'm sure, would beg to differ with Ms. Roy.

REEVES: So wrote one correspondent before continuing.

Unidentified Woman: I'm sure Mahatma Gandhi's soul would not object to Mr. Bush laying flowers at Raj Ghat. The Mahatma was more kindly disposed towards those who disagreed with him.

REEVES: Demonstrators in New Delhi today were in no doubt of where they stood, among them, a protestor called Sakhaf(ph).

SAKHAF (Resident, New Delhi): Well, I think, you know, nothing could be more ironical than Bush visiting Gandhi, because Gandhi was a spokesperson for nonviolent politics of freedom, and Bush just believes in the opposite.

REEVES: Mr. Bush's next stop is the southern city of Hyderabad. He can expect another day like today, hospitality from some, hostility from others.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi.

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