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Faulty Promises: The U.S.-India Nuclear Deal

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At their July summit meeting in Washington, D.C., U.S. President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced potentially major departures in U.S. and Indian nuclear policies. President Bush promised to win congressional approval to change U.S. nonproliferation and export control laws and policies that heretofore have blocked full nuclear cooperation with India. In seeking to end restrictions on such cooperation, the United States wants India to be accepted globally as a responsible possessor of nuclear weapons even though India will not join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). For its part, India committed to "assume the same responsibilities and practices" as the acknowledged nuclear weapons states. This includes distinguishing India's military nuclear facilities from civilian ones and putting all civilian facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. India also agreed to extend its moratorium on nuclear testing.

The nuclear deal was hatched by a handful of top officials from both governments. The key U.S. officials involved--Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Undersecretary Nicholas Burns, and counselor Philip Zelikow--minimized interagency review, congressional briefings and international consultations. Rice, Burns, Zelikow, and, ultimately, President Bush had made up their minds to lead a bold departure from long-standing policies toward India and toward U.S. and international rules governing nuclear technology commerce. They knew that extended vetting would suck the boldness out of their strategy. They wanted to move quickly to herald their new initiative during Singh's state visit to Washington and to enable implementation to begin in time for President Bush's expected visit to India in early 2006.