Nuclear Deal with India Breaks with Past U.S. Policy

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The nuclear agreement with India that President Bush announced Thursday must still be approved by Congress. Some members have expressed doubt because it breaks with past policy. The United States has previously barred countries like India — which refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — from accessing American nuclear capabilities. Steve Inskeep talks to Robert Blackwill, former U.S. ambassador to India, and a lobbyist for that government.


Here's a second look at the major headline of the president's visit: it was an agreement over India's nuclear program. That program faces sharp criticism in Congress, which has to approve the deal, and this morning, we've called Robert Blackwill who was involved in making the agreement. He was President Bush's ambassador to India and is now part of a firm that lobbies for India. Ambassador, good morning, and I suppose I should say, congratulations; I know you were involved in this.

Mr. ROBERT BLACKWILL (Former U.S. Ambassador to India): Well, I think it's a extraordinary diplomatic accomplishment, both for the president and the Indian prime minister.

INSKEEP: Now, we've reported the basics. India separates its civilian and military nuclear programs. India's military program goes right on making military bombs, but the U.S. aids the civilian program, and as you know, some lawmakers would be asking why that makes sense.

Mr. BLACKWILL: Well it depends on how you measure it. I think The Washington Post, this morning, put it well, is, do you measure it against the previous situation or against an ideal? India is going to maintain its nuclear deterrent, whatever we do. The issue is can we help them generate more power inside India through nuclear means so they don't put such a weight on the international energy markets, and so they don't pollute the environment with dirty coal? And the answer is, yes we can.

INSKEEP: Which I should mention arguments that you have made in public, and that the president went ahead and made, as he announced this deal. I should ask, though, the tradition has been that the U.S. says, we'll share nuclear material with you, if you sign a non-proliferation treaty and do not pursue weapons. India did not do any of that and people will ask why India will get the benefit without doing it.

Mr. BLACKWILL: Well, again, that's a treaty that's 30 years old. It served American national interest throughout this period, but the question the president faced was how long does this situation go on in which the United States leaves an effort to make India a nuclear pariah. And he made a judgment, which I think is absolutely right that in the period going forward that it's better to have India inside the non-proliferation regime, which it will now be, rather than outside.

INSKEEP: And how will you know that the nuclear material that the United States gives India will not be diverted for military use?

Mr. BLACKWILL: Because there will be IAEA inspectors at all of the civil nuclear facilities which would receive external nuclear assistance.

INSKEEP: Is there, this a weakness that there will not be inspectors at India's military nuclear facilities?

Mr. BLACKWILL: Well, as I say, India's going to pursue its weapons program, with or without the United States. Nuclear weapons states do not make their military facilities available to international inspectors, but over the long term, future, all future Indian nuclear reactors, including breeder rectors, will be under international safeguards. This is a good deal for the United States, a good deal for India, and a good deal for the non-proliferation regime, in my view.

INSKEEP: And let me ask about the implications of this, as well. Will this provide a motivation for more agreements of this kind, perhaps involving other nations? For example, what do you say to China, if China were suddenly to say, well if you make this deal with India, we'll make a nuclear deal with Pakistan?

Mr. BLACKWILL: Well first of all, they administration has made it clear that this is a singularity, that it's a one off exception, giving India special circumstances. But second, in order for China to proceed as you suggest, they would have to have permission from a nuclear suppliers group which they will never get because of Pakistan's terrible record in exploiting sensitive technology. India, of course, has an exemplary record in that regard. It's never exploited any sensitive technology, so I don't believe there's any danger that China will try to have a similar deal with Pakistan.

INSKEEP: And it sounds like as, President Bush goes to Pakistan, you would not favor giving a similar deal to Pakistan which is India's nuclear rival?

Mr. BLACKWILL: Yeah, I don't think any responsible voice in Washington would approve such a such a step.

INSKEEP: Ambassador Blackwill, thanks very much for speaking with us this morning.

Mr. BLACKWILL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Robert Blackwill is a former U.S. Ambassador to India and now lobbies for India's government.

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