India moves closer to U.S. nuke pact

August 1, 2008 8:12:50 AM PDT
The U.N. nuclear watchdog adopted a plan Friday for inspecting India's nuclear reactors, moving the country one step closer to a landmark nuclear deal with the United States.The safeguards agreement approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-member board will effectively allow U.N. monitors access to 14 existing or planned Indian nuclear reactors by 2014.

The inspections agreement was an essential step toward India finalizing a pact with the United States that would end more than three decades of nuclear isolation. The deal will open India's civilian reactors to international inspections in exchange for the nuclear fuel and technology it has been denied by its refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and its testing of atomic weapons.

Without IAEA safeguards, India cannot import nuclear technology from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which includes the United States. India must now strike a separate agreement with the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The U.S. Congress will then need to approve the U.S.-India accord.

The deal is seen as the cornerstone of a budding strategic partnership between the United States and India, which was officially neutral during the Cold War but had warm relations with the Soviet Union.

The IAEA board of governors approved the safeguards agreement by consensus despite criticism that ambiguous wording in the deal could end up limiting international oversight of India's reactors, undermine the international nonproliferation regime and possibly help supply its arms programs with fissile material.

Britain hailed passage of the agreement as a "significant contribution to energy and climate security, as well developmental and economic objectives for India and the international community."

It also said it represents a gain for the nonproliferation regime, echoing comments by Washington leading up to passage.

India first conducted a nuclear test explosion 34 years ago after it broke out of its foreign-supplied civilian program to develop atomic arms.


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