White House criticised for agreeing to share nuclear technology with India

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The Independent US

President George Bush has finalised a deal to share nuclear technology with India even as the US leads international attempts to rein in the nuclear programme of Iran.

Yesterday's deal, under which the US will supply India with nuclear fuel and the two countries will share civilian nuclear technology, is the centrepiece of Mr Bush's visit to India this week. For India, the deal represents the moment it comes in from the cold as an accepted nuclear power, eight years after it was placed under international sanctions for detonating its first nuclear bomb. Mr Bush hailed the deal as "an historic agreement".

Critics argue that it amounts to rewarding India - which has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty - for developing its own nuclear weapons in defiance of world opinion.

But President Bush, speaking at a joint press conference with the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, countered that: "It's in our interests that India has a civilian nuclear power industry to help take the pressure off the global demand for energy." Rapidly increasing energy demands in India and China are causing a rise in the price of oil, he added.

Many observers believe the deal is also partly motivated by the US desire to make India a strategic ally, a counterweight to the growing power of China.

Under the deal, India has agreed to separate its civilian and military nuclear programmes. American and Indian negotiators fought until the eleventh hour over which parts of India's nuclear programme would be separated from the military, and there were fears the agreement would not be ready for Mr Bush's visit.

Mr Singh announced yesterday that India has also agreed to put its nuclear programme under safeguards from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that will be specifically tailored to the country.

The deal still needs approval from the US Congress, which President Bush admitted he could have difficulty securing. It also faces considerable opposition in India, where many see it as a surrender of sovereignty.

"It's not an easy job for the Prime Minister to achieve this agreement, I understand," Mr Bush said. "It's not easy for the American President to achieve this agreement, but it's a necessary agreement. It's one that will help both our peoples."

Thousands took to the streets across India to protest at Mr Bush's visit. In the capital, Delhi, as many as 150,000 people took part in protests that brought large areas of the city to a standstill. Both houses of parliament had to be suspended after members staged sit-ins against Mr Bush's visit.