Congress Urged To Back Nuclear Deal With India

The Bush administration is pressing Congress to approve a nuclear cooperation deal with India. It's one of the top foreign policy goals of the White House. Some lawmakers are cautious, and not eager to ease a requirement that it should have 30 days to consider the deal before ratifying it.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer in Washington.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep in New York. World leaders meeting here this week get one last look at President Bush. He's attending a session of the United Nations General Assembly. It may be Mr. Bush's final appearance before the U.N., but his administration is not finished trying to leave its impression on the world. It is especially eager to push through one of its remaining goals: nuclear trade with India. The business community is lobbying Congress to approve a deal that would let India buy nuclear technology from the United States. It's a debate that could bring in billions of dollars, but is complicated by concerns about proliferation. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: India is a fast-growing country that's planning to build more nuclear reactors to meet its power needs now that the Nuclear Suppliers Group has eased trade restrictions, a move requested by the U.S. Industry experts including Michael Gadbaw think it's time for Congress to act before U.S. companies lose out to French and Russian competitors.

Mr. MICHAEL GADBAW (Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Institute of International Economic Law, Georgetown University Law Center): Every day of delay does disadvantage American companies. We have been restrained because of regulatory hurdles from actually doing the kind of marketing that the French and the Russian companies have been able to do.

KELEMEN: Gadbaw retired from General Electric earlier this year and now teaches at Georgetown University Law School. He's been a longtime proponent of better business ties with India, which has nuclear weapons but never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He says India has played by the rules and should have access to world-class technology. And he sees big opportunities.

Mr. GADBAW: India has around 3,500 megawatts of nuclear power right now. They want to put in 40,000 megawatts. Well, that's a big increase. That's a lot of ABWR machines, in our case Advanced Boiling Water Reactors. Those are big infrastructure projects that are literally in the billions of dollars for every single one of them.

KELEMEN: That's not to mention the potential for U.S. defense contractors as India beefs up its defense spending. Nonproliferation experts like Charles Ferguson are worried that business interests are overshadowing their concerns.

Mr. CHARLES FERGUSON (Senior Fellow for Science and Technology, Council on Foreign Relations): This cuts across party lines. A lot of Democrats who are strong supporters of the nonproliferation regime also are very strong backers of the Indian-American business community. It's one of the strongest lobbying powers in the United States right now.

KELEMEN: Ferguson, who's with the Council on Foreign Relations, said he would have liked to see the U.S get India to at least agree to consider signing the comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and stop producing fissile material for nuclear weapons. Ferguson calls this a faith-based initiative by the administration, and questions those who call it a foreign policy success story.

Dr. FERGUSON: So it's faith-based in the sense that the Bush administration hopes that even though we don't get a strong nonproliferation signal out of this, it will develop a much better relationship with India. And the hope is then that will turn into something more meaningful when it comes to nuclear security in the future, perhaps. But the more tangible gains are in the business community and all sectors, not just nuclear.

KELEMEN: Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama have spoken in favor of the India nuclear deal. And the Senate held its first hearing last week. But U.S. law requires a 30-day period of deliberations, and Congress is under pressure now to pass new legislation to waive that requirement. Congressman Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, doesn't want to rush this.

Representative EDWARD MARKEY (Democrat, Massachusetts): The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is the single most important international security agreement in existence, and this deal blows a hole straight through it. So my hope is that the Congress uses all the time it needs to understand the details of the deal and the consequences.

KELEMEN: Congressman Markey says he understands U.S. companies want to start making money, but he still has a lot of questions, such as how Pakistan will respond or what Iran might think if India, as he puts it, is given the keys to the nuclear kingdom. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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