WASHINGTON // The US House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly to approve a landmark pact that would allow the US to provide nuclear materials to India. The deal still faces obstacles in the Senate, making prospects uncertain for passage before George W Bush leaves office in January. The Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat and a supporter, promised a Senate vote on the accord in the week ahead, possibly Monday.
Hoping to raise pressure on that chamber, Mr Bush quickly issued a statement praising House passage and prodding the Senate to do the same thing. "I urge the Senate to quickly take up and pass this important piece of legislation before their October adjournment," the president said. "Signing this bipartisan bill will help strengthen our partnership with India." India's prime minister Manmohan Singh, addressing the Indian community in New York where he was attending the UN General Assembly, said "the journey President Bush and I embarked upon is nearing fruition".
"India will be liberated from the constraints of technology denial of 34 years. It will add an important strategic pillar to our bilateral partnership. We will widen our clean energy options," he said yesterday. The House approved the measure 298-117 without debate in an unusual Saturday session, held as lawmakers try dealing with the financial crisis and wrapping up the year's business. The accord reverses three decades of US policy by shipping atomic fuel to India in return for international inspections of India's civilian reactors.
Military reactors would not be subject to examination. Supporters say it would bring India's atomic programme under closer scrutiny. Critics say it would boost India's nuclear arsenal and spark an arms race in South Asia. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said the measure "furthers our countries' strategic relationship while balancing nuclear non-proliferation concerns and India's growing energy needs." Supporters warn that while Congress argues over the deal, US businesses are losing opportunities as France, Russia and other countries eyed India's multimillion-dollar nuclear market. Critics say the initiative sends the wrong message to countries like Iran as they pursue atomic programs. India built its bombs outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which provides civil nuclear trade in exchange for a pledge from nations not to pursue nuclear weapons. India has refused to sign non-proliferation agreements and has faced a nuclear trade ban since its first atomic test in 1974. The agreement with the US has been a top priority for the Indian prime minister. The 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group of countries that supply nuclear material and technology agreed this month to lift the ban on civilian nuclear trade with India after contentious talks and some concessions to countries fearful it could set a dangerous precedent. Indian defence and diplomacy experts predicted yesterday that the measure would be approved by the US Congress. * AP