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Nuclear Deal a Focus of Bush India Visit


And when he detoured to Afghanistan, the president avoided the demonstrators who wanted to meet him at his expected destination of India.

(Soundbite of India protestors, speaking in a foreign language)

INSKEEP: The anti-American demonstrations went ahead, though the president's arrival was delayed. The focus of the Bush visit is supposed to be a nuclear cooperation agreement, both historic and controversial. Negotiators hope to finish it in time for an announcement while the president is in India, and they are still talking. We're going to New Delhi next, to NPR's Philip Reeves who's covering this story. And, Philip, why does this agreement matter so much?

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Well, India's been subject to an international moratorium on the supply of nuclear materials. Since it first tested an atomic bomb in the mid-1970s, and it also, as you know, never signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. So, if this deal goes through, and wins the backing in the U.S. and Congress, it would end more than three decades of international isolation on this issue. India very much needs more sources of energy of all kinds to help fuel its growth, and among other things, this would ease its domestic shortage of uranium, because it would allow it to import nuclear fuel. And that would boost its capacity to produce civilian nuclear power.

INSKEEP: So, the idea here, in effect, is to say, the world to say to India, we're not happy that you have nuclear weapons, but it's a reality. And now we're going to find a way to work with you on civilian nuclear power. Is that basically what the Americans are aiming for?

REEVES: Yes, that's basically their argument. And they say that if they can address India's energy shortage, its economy, India's economy, which is already notching up an 8 percent plus growth rate, can grow more, and that means more markets for American goods.

And the Bush administration, you know, it sees this as a way of engaging a nuclear power that's outside the international nonproliferation system, but which has a good record of not proliferating. And some analysts argue that this is, you know, part of a broader strategy in the U.S. also, to ensure that there's more than one significant power in Asia. By encouraging India's growth, it will contain China.

INSKEEP: Hm. Counterweight to China. Now, why is this accord so controversial?

REEVES: Well, the nonproliferation advocates in the U.S. see this as undermining the U.S.'s nonproliferation efforts over many years. They say that, in effect, it rewards bad behavior.

India has developed this nuclear arsenal in defiance of the international community. The U.S. says this is just a one-off deal, but critics say that changing the rules for India only encourages Iran and North Korean efforts to build a bomb, and may even encourage Russia and China to loosen the rules to help other countries with nuclear ambitions.

Some observers also, Steve, believe that the deal will make it easier for India to build more nuclear weapons, and that that will produce an arms race with its old enemy, Pakistan.

INSKEEP: Now, Philip, I know you've been out in the streets today looking at some of the demonstrations that we heard a moment ago. What is dominating conversation in New Delhi? Is it the anti-Americanism shown in those demonstrations? Is it this nuclear agreement?

REEVES: You know, there's a very mixed reaction, Steve, to the arrival of President Bush. On the one hand, India is pleased to have the attention of the world's super power. This is the first time they've had two visits by consecutive Presidents in their history. On the other hand, there are protests. There've been protests in New Delhi, as you heard, and also elsewhere.

And interesting, the prominent Indian writer, Arundhati Roy, has triggered a debate. She's condemned the visit and criticized Mr. Bush for planning to go to Mahatma Gandhi's cremation site. And letters for and against the Bush visit have been filling the pages of the newspapers today.

INSKEEP: So, in the midst of all that, these negotiators are trying to finalize this deal. What is holding them up?

REEVES: In essence, the issue here is that the deal requires India to separate its civilian nuclear reactors from its military reactors. India says its military program and its civilian program is entwined, they're entwined with one another. But the U.S. is obviously keen that to get this separation, because if they get the separation, the civilian power stations come under inspection, under international inspection regime by the IAEA, and that's what they want.

INSKEEP: Which means that you could share nuclear materials with India and have some confidence that they would not become nuclear weapons. Is that the point?

REEVES: That's the point, but its whether that would work that's a key part of the discussions that are now underway.

INSKEEP: Philip, thanks very much.

That's NPR's Philip Reeves, in New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.