House approves nuclear pact with India

September 27, 2008 2:41:08 PM PDT
The House voted overwhelmingly Saturday to approve a landmark pact that would allow the U.S. to provide nuclear materials to India. The deal still faces major obstacles in the Senate, making prospects uncertain for passage before President Bush leaves office in January. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate would vote on the accord in the week ahead, possibly Monday.

The House approved the measure by 298-117 without debate in an unusual Saturday session. The accord reverses three decades of U.S. policy by shipping atomic fuel to India in return for international inspections of India's civilian reactors.

Supporters say it would bring India's atomic program under closer scrutiny. Critics say it would boost India's nuclear arsenal and spark an arms race in South Asia.

The accord enjoys strong support from senior lawmakers in both parties. But it has stalled in the Senate because at least one lawmaker has anonymously blocked it from coming to a vote, according to congressional aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

Supporters warn that while Congress argues over the deal, American businesses are losing opportunities as France, Russia and other countries eyed India's multibillion-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 nonproliferation agreements and has faced a nuclear trade ban since its first atomic test in 1974.

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.