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Rice Defends Bush's India Nuclear Plan

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Rice Defends Bush's India Nuclear Plan

Rice Defends Bush's India Nuclear Plan

Rice Defends Bush's India Nuclear Plan

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On Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defends President Bush's plan to give India nuclear technology, emphasizing closer bonds with India. Many in Congress aired their concerns that the deal, if approved, would undermine nonproliferation efforts.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was on Capitol Hill today seeking approval for a landmark civilian nuclear deal with India. The deal would break a decades-old U.S. policy to isolate India for not signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Some members of Congress argue the deal jeopardizes the Bush Administration's nonproliferation efforts. Today, Rice denied that. NPR's Michele Kelemen has our report.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Secretary Rice describes the deal in grand strategic terms. She says India is a natural partner for the United States. And Washington wants to help it become a global power, or as analysts say, a counterweight to China. But lawmakers are worried about some of the specifics. Whether the deal to provide India with nuclear fuel and technology for civilian power plants would actually help it build more bombs.

RICHARD LUGAR: The course of history is not going to be kind to us if we certainly are involved in an arms race.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana, was sounding skeptical as he described the civil nuclear deal with India as one of the most ambitious foreign policy initiatives to come before Congress in years.

LUGAR: Although the U.S.-India Civilian Nuclear Agreement would move India into a closer relationship with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and would put more Indian reactors under safeguards, it would not prevent India from expanding its nuclear arsenal.

KELEMEN: And that's just one of many concerns that were raised in both House and Senate hearings today. Criticisms Secretary Rice said she wanted to take head on.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Nothing we or any other potential international suppliers provide to India under this initiative will enhance its military capacity or add to its military stockpile.

KELEMEN: She said the U.S. would be in a better position to influence regional dynamics if it builds up strong relations with both India and Pakistan. And that, she said, would help deter an arms race. Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry criticized the Bush Administration for not making tougher demands on India, but that he's inclined to support the deal.

JOHN KERRY: I think we have to get over this notion that because of what's happened in past history, we can't deal with new realities that are on the table. If we always stay stuck in the same place, we never advance any ball. That is not to say that I think you have advanced the ball as far as you could have.

KELEMEN: Illinois Democrat Barack Obama pointed out, for instance, that eight of India's 22 nuclear plants would be off limits to United Nations inspectors. Others were concerned about the timing of the deal just as the U.S. wants to keep nuclear know-how out of Iranian hands. Then there were practical concerns raised by, among others, Democrat Barbara Boxer, who complained that the administration is asking Congress to amend legislation without all of the technical arrangements for inspections in place.

BARBARA BOXER: You're really, in many ways, ducking around the Congress. I think that this deal has to have more checks and balances. That's it.

KELEMEN: The Bush Administration does have an uphill battle in Congress, but also some big supporters. On the House side the ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee, Tom Lantos of California, predicted months of tough work that will result in, what he said, would be a new era in U.S. Indian relations. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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