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A nuclear test

November 08, 2005

CONGRESS IS UNDERSTANDABLY upset that nearly four months after the Bush administration reversed long-standing policy and announced that it would provide nuclear assistance to India, the State Department has given lawmakers little information on the deal. In this case, the silence is golden; if the proposal falls through, so much the better.

Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), who chairs the House International Relations Committee, said recently that India knows more about the proposal than Congress. He said leaders of both houses had asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to change that.

Despite India's nuclear weapons tests in 1998 and its refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, President Bush agreed with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in July that the United States would supply India with nuclear fuel, technology and equipment. In exchange, India must strengthen nuclear safeguards, separate its civilian and military nuclear programs and allow international inspections of the civilian part.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) correctly noted during hearings last week of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he chairs, that the nonproliferation treaty is the foundation of international efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. The United States should hardly be rewarding nations that fail to take part. In addition, India violated agreements with the U.S. and Canada not to use nuclear material for weapons in 1974, when it conducted what it called a "peaceful nuclear explosion."

India and the U.S. are natural allies, and in recent years they have bridged differences that too often divided them during the Cold War. But helping India expand its civilian nuclear power program -- despite its failure to sign both the nonproliferation treaty and the treaty banning the testing of nuclear weapons -- penalizes other nations that agreed to sign treaties, and to submit to International Atomic Energy Agency inspection, in exchange for receiving nuclear supplies.

The U.S.-India arrangement also undercuts the administration's important campaigns against North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons programs.

Indeed, when it comes to halting nuclear proliferation by other countries, India isn't proving to be much help. The country seemed to be playing a positive role in September, when it joined the United States in calling for the IAEA to consider reporting Iran to the U.N. Security Council because of its nuclear program. Iran, traditionally India's ally on nuclear matters, retaliated by threatening to cancel a $20-billion natural-gas pipeline to India. On Monday, India caved in: It announced an agreement with China and Russia that Iran should not be referred to the Security Council.

For the United States to fulfill Bush's agreement, Congress would have to amend a 1978 law forbidding nuclear energy assistance to nuclear weapon states. The administration has yet to provide a convincing argument for lawmakers to take that step.

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