MELISSA BLOCK, host:
You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News. The financial bailout is not the only issue before U.S. senators today. This evening, the Senate approved a civilian nuclear agreement with India, clearing a final hurdle for a key foreign policy goal of the Bush Administration. The deal opens up a multi billion dollar market for U.S. energy companies, but as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, there are lingering concerns about what this means for efforts to stop the spread of sensitive technology.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Connecticut Democrat Christopher Dodd, a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, describes this deal as something much more than just a chance for U.S. companies to sell nuclear technology to India for the first time since India tested a nuclear weapon in 1974.
Senator CHRISTOPHER DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): This bill enables the United States and India to chart a new course in relations between our two great democracies. There are compelling geopolitical reasons to move forward with this relationship. India has become a major actor in the world.
KELEMEN: And a country with dramatically rising energy demands. Senator Dodd tried to ease concerns among some of his colleagues about the technical aspects of trading in nuclear technology with a country that never signed the non-proliferation treaty. Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, also put his weight behind the deal as a senator with a long record on non-proliferation.
Senator RICHARD LUGAR (Republican, Indiana): This agreement will allow India to receive nuclear fuel, technology, and reactors from the United States, benefits that were previously denied to India because of its status outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The benefits of this pact are designed to be a lasting incentive for India to abstain from further nuclear weapons tests and to cooperate closely with the United States in stopping proliferation.
KELEMEN: Lugar said that, to get to this point, India has created a new export control system. It has promised to maintain a nuclear testing moratorium and will put its civilian facilities under international safeguards. But Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, says India will still have eight reactors, as he put it, behind a curtain.
Senator BYRON DORGAN (Democrat, North Dakota): Which is a green light to say, you may produce additional nuclear weapons. Now, that's not just a supposition. Almost everybody understands that's going to happen, and oh, by the way, this agreement does not prohibit them from nuclear tests. This agreement is very ambiguous about that.
KELEMEN: Bush administration officials have said that nuclear trade would be cut off if India tests another nuclear weapon, and they deny that they gave away too much in negotiations with India. Still, Senator Dorgan feels this deal was rushed and sends the wrong signal.
Senator DORGAN: This message is, you can misuse American nuclear technology and secretly develop nuclear weapons. You can test those weapons. You can build a nuclear arsenal in defiance of United Nations resolutions, and you will be welcomed as someone exhibiting good behavior with an agreement with the United States of America. What kind of message is that?
KELEMEN: Dorgan said the U.S. will one day look back on the deal with regret. But while he complained the congressional debate on the deal was too short, business lobbyists said Congress needed to act quickly so that U.S. companies won't lose out to Russian and French competitors vying for contracts in India's multi-billion-dollar nuclear energy sector. India is also planning to boost defense spending, and lobbyists argue that good ties with Washington could translate into big contracts for American companies in that field as well. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.