Bush seeks nuclear deal, stronger economic ties with India
WASHINGTON – President Bush will try to seal an elusive nuclear deal when he visits India this week but also will seek new footing with a burgeoning economic power feared by some Americans and embraced by others.With a stop in Pakistan, Bush joins Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and Clinton as the only U.S. chief executives to visit both countries.India, with more than 1 billion people, is the world’s largest democracy and has the second largest population of Muslims, after Indonesia. U.S. businesses are eyeing India’s fast-growing economy. Some estimates put its middle class at 300 million; the entire U.S. population is just over 298 million.Some in the U.S. perceive India as a threat to their jobs and are wary of the country’s cheap labor markets. The Bush administration says U.S. jobs will be created if American companies stay competitive in the global economy.Last year, U.S. exports to India grew by more than 30 percent. While India’s growth has not touched lower-income groups, India’s middle class is buying air conditioners, kitchen appliances and washing machines – many of them from U.S. companies such as GE, Whirlpool and Westinghouse.India could be a counterweight to the rising power of China, which the U.S. views as a potential rival. India, however, professes little interest in playing that role.”There is no way better to empty a drawing room in Delhi of Indian strategists than to start talking about this idea,” said Robert Blackwill, a former U.S. ambassador to India.Bush’s stop in neighboring Pakistan follows recent demonstrations against cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that were first printed in a Danish newspaper. The protests have turned into platforms for criticism of the United States, the Pakistani government of Pervez Musharraf and the war in Iraq.Bush is not expected to stray far from the gated presidential palace in Islamabad, though he plans to participate in a cricket event.Bush’s daylong visit to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, is a chance to reverse anti-American sentiment and nurture relations with Musharraf, an ally in the fight against terrorism.Some Americans think Musharraf can do more to combat terrorism, but Pakistan claims it has arrested about 700 al-Qaida suspects in the past four years, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.Talks about the nuclear agreement with India probably will overshadow discussions on terrorism and economic relations. A framework for an agreement was announced by Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmoham Singh at the White House in July.”We’re making progress, but we’re not yet there,” the president’s national security adviser, Steve Hadley, said Friday.Supporters of the deal say it would allow the U.S. to provide the technology and nuclear fuel India needs to meet its growing needs for energy and ease demand for oil.In exchange, India is pledging to separate its nuclear energy work from its nuclear weapons activity and give inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency access to its civilian program.The deal faces opposition in Washington and New Delhi.In India, opponents claim the U.S. wants too many of India’s civilian nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards and suspect that is America’s way of trying to weaken the nuclear weapons program.U.S. foes of the pact say it would make India an exception to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which India will not sign.These opponents say the deal, which requires congressional approval, would undermine the treaty and lead to the further spread of nuclear weapons. The only way to avoid that, they say, is to force India to put its civilian and military weapons facilities under IAEA oversight.”I don’t care what kind of deal the Bush administration works out with the Indians on safeguards,” said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., co-chairman of the House Nuclear Nonproliferation Task Force. “It is meaningless to have a ‘safeguarded’ civilian nuclear energy program in India if there is an ‘un-safeguarded’ military nuclear program sitting right alongside it.”Presidential trips to the region are not common. Jimmy Carter visited India during his administration, and Lyndon Johnson visited Pakistan as president.