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Why India got a pass with new nuke deal

NBC News White House correspondent Kelly O’Donnell reports from New Delhi on India’s “unique” relationship with the U.S.
U.S. President George W. Bush leans in to listen to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as they participate in a meeting with U.S. and Indian CEOs at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Thursday.   Charles Dharapak / AP
/ Source: NBC News

NEW DELHI, India — President Bush on Thursday announced what is being called a “landmark” nuclear deal with India; meanwhile, a suicide attack in Pakistan, the next stop on his tour, killed four, including a U.S. diplomat.

NBC News White House correspondent Kelly O’Donnell reports on the significance of the nuclear deal, India’s “unique” relationship with the U.S., and why many in India are miffed by what they see as the president's lack of chivalry in neglecting to take his wife, Laura, to the nation's most famous monument to love, the Taj Mahal.

What is the significance of the nuclear deal between the U.S. and India that President Bush and India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced on Thursday?  
U.S. officials say they have been working on this for eight months and finally hammered out the final agreement this morning just before Bush and Singh appeared. It is the first time that this kind of an agreement has been reached.

What it does is allow India to get some of the American knowledge about the science of nuclear energy and fuel, so that India can expand its civilian nuclear capacity — primarily for electricity. India has a very limited capacity of electricity, but a huge demand for it because of their growing economy.

The U.S. is pleased that, in exchange, India is allowing for international inspections of the majority of its nuclear sites, something that India has never agreed to do in its 30 years as a nuclear power.

India will separate its civilian and military nuclear program. The U.S. says that this gives greater transparency and that it is a benefit to both countries. It will also open up trade to U.S. companies that want to do business in the area of selling nuclear equipment and technology to India.

There are critics who say that the deal is not good for India because India is giving up some of its control by allowing an international group to come in and see what its doing. But the U.S. believes that India has been in too much isolation for all of these years, and that’s why they are happy about this.

What about India’s non-compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty?
India has never signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. There is concern for this deal because it demands the question: What about other countries like North Korea and Iran that also want to expand their nuclear power?  

The U.S. says that India, as a nuclear power, has never sold its nuclear knowledge to other countries. It has never done anything that the U.S. thinks is harmful.

To make this deal happen U.S. law would have to change, because the U.S. is not permitted to sell nuclear knowledge to a county that does not participate in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The U.S. would do this for India because they believe that India has a unique role in the world and is very different from North Korea or Iran.

Is the U.S. trying to take advantage of that “unique role” that they see for India as sort of a counterweight to China’s growing economic and political influence? Was this trip by Bush sort of a way to court that “unique role?”
In many ways, the answer to that is, yes. The U.S. views India as significant because it is the largest democracy in the world. It is a country that has many religions that are coexisting in a peaceful way and it’s got this booming economy. It’s number-one trading partner is the U.S.

So in a lot of ways, what’s happening in India is in step with what the U.S. believes should be happening in the rest of the world. So, helping India to grow, both economically and in its nuclear capacity for energy, is something that the U.S. believes in. 

It also follows with the president’s view that we have to explore alternative sources of energy. So, for example if India’s need for fossil fuels goes down, because they can use more nuclear energy to generate power, than it puts less strain on the entire global market. And that’s something that Bush believes could even help American consumers.

China, one of India’s neighbors, is also a huge force militarily and in terms of economic power. It has a much more contentious relationship with the U.S. So, by having more positive relationships with India, it certainly helps balance in this part of the world.

Of course, Pakistan, being the other neighbor, is an important country in the war on terror. It is a country where a lot of terrorism is coming out of, but it is also a country where President Musharaff is in many ways considered helpful to President Bush.

So, India is unique for all of those reasons, according to U.S. officials. So, they are using words like “landmark” and “historic” in reference to this nuclear deal. 

With that, what about the mixed feelings towards Bush within India? There were large protests ahead of Bush’s arrival and on Thursday. Big business and the government are clearly eager to strengthen ties with the U.S., but others appear to see the U.S. as a global bully.
There are protests wherever Bush goes. Here in India, there are people on the left of the political spectrum who are against globalization and Bush. There is a Muslim community that is anti-Bush. There have been protests that have been largely peaceful, and that are very similar to the kind of protests that are seen wherever he goes.  

Interestingly, India, in a recent survey, has a very favorable view of the U.S. and Bush. In a survey, 70 percent of Indians who were questioned said that they had a good impression of the U.S., and more than 50 percent thought that Bush was a good leader, which is considerably higher than it is even in the U.S.

So, despite some of the protests and negative response to his visit, he’s viewed in favorable terms here generally.

Bush’s next stop is Pakistan, where there was a suicide attack in Karachi on Thursday that killed four people, including a U.S. diplomat. Bush is headed to Islamabad and has vowed to continue with his trip there, but how badly does that latest attack bode for his trip?
Well, the president said that he will not be stopped by terrorists and that the attack will not impact his visit. But, certainly, security concerns have been significant in all of the planning leading up to this trip — and he’s never been to Pakistan before. It is a very volatile place and clearly the people responsible for the attack wanted to draw the connection between what they did and his impending arrival.

The setting and the atmosphere around the trip will certainly have the heavy weight of all of that. But, as expected, Bush could not bend to all of that — to do so would be against everything he talks about. So, its not a surprise that he would say that he’s going to continue on.

I’m sure that the security will be enormously tight. There is not a lengthy stay in Pakistan. But he wants to meet with President Musharaff to talk about issues that relate to terrorism, and he said that is an important meeting to have and he needs to go to Pakistan to do it. 

The other part of it is geopolitics in this part of the world. Because of the contentious relationship between India and Pakistan, it is almost impossible to be in this part of the world and visit one country but not visit the other country as well. So there is a little bit of a regional political gesture as well. 

You mention that it will be a “quick trip” to Pakistan for Bush. Now, the whole trip is pretty quick, and Bush is skipping out on one of the major Indian sites, the Taj Mahal. How is that being received there?
Unlike some presidents who really become tourists when they go to some parts of the world and get out and see quite a bit, Bush has never been known to do that. 

He often says it’s because of the security — that it is an imposition on the cities he visits. This time he said that it was the scheduling department that didn’t put the Taj Mahal on the trip. But he’s the president — if he wants to go to the Taj Mahal, they’ll figure out a way to make it happen. 

In this case, that is a sentiment people certainly feel because the Taj Mahal is the most famous site. It has enormous significance and he’s just not including it.

At a luncheon today, Prime Minister Singh gave a toast and after all of the goodwill that has been exchanged between these two, he sort of teased the president and said he should have taken Mrs. Bush to the Taj Mahal.

Addressing Bush’s wife, Laura, Singh said, “I am truly sorry the president is not taking you to Taj Mahal this time. I hope he will be more chivalrous next time you are here.”

Bush responded, saying that he was glad Singh brought that up: “I’ve been hearing about it from Laura ever since I told her that we weren’t going.”

So he tried to make light of it. But people here have wondered why, if he’s come this far, why isn’t he going to see their famous site.

They have been doing some substantive work in New Delhi on that nuclear agreement and, of course, Bush had that secret stop in Afghanistan, so perhaps that factored into their planning.

That said, people are wondering why he didn’t go, and it is something that has been taken notice of here. It is seen by some as somewhat of a snub.

So the president, of course, has been trying to be very gracious and thanking them for their hospitality. But, still, many wish that he had visited that site.