WASHINGTON – President Bush urged India on Wednesday to separate its civilian and military nuclear programs and assure the world it will be a good steward of nuclear material to fuel its fast-growing economy.
In previewing his upcoming trip to the country, Bush also said Americans should not fear U.S. jobs going to India. If American companies are competitive, that will translate into more jobs for U.S. workers and farmers, he said.
The president, who also is visiting Pakistan early next month, also called for an end to violent protests there over the publication of cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.
"We must not allow mobs to dictate the future of South Asia," the president said about the protests that have taken on an anti-government dimension. "Governments have an obligation to restore the rule of law."
Bush spoke of growing ties between India and the United States on agriculture, economic and energy, specifically the landmark agreement to share civilian nuclear technology that Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced in July 2005.
"This is not an easy decision for India, nor is it an easy decision for the United States," Bush said. "Implementing this agreement will take patience from both our countries."
The president, who used his State of the Union message and speeches since then to promote his new initiative to improve U.S. competitiveness around the globe, said people shouldn't worry about this causing jobs to drift overseas and quipped that "Young Indians are acquiring a taste for pizza from Domino's, Pizza Hut."
Bush, who spoke at the Asia Society, said he would continue to encourage India to create a credible, transparent and defensible plan to separate its civilian and military nuclear programs.
The deal, which Congress has not yet approved, is seen as a cornerstone of the emerging alliance between India and the United States, as well as an effort to balance China's growing economic and political influence in Asia.
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns is to visit India this week to continue talks on the agreement and possibly finalize them before Bush leaves for India Feb. 28.
Ronen Sen, India's ambassador to the United States, said Tuesday he was optimistic that the two countries could iron out the details to share civilian nuclear technology, but he said hard work remains.
Supporters say the agreement is crucial to India, a U.S. ally that wants more nuclear plants to meet the needs of its more than 1 billion people but lacks the technology to build reactors and the fuel to run them.
However, some lawmakers and analysts fear the Bush plan might undermine the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which India has not signed. They worry that it will allow rogue nations to build nuclear weapons programs with imported civilian nuclear technology.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., says that it's meaningless to have an agreement calling for safeguarding India's civilian nuclear energy program if the military nuclear program is not covered by the same safeguards.
"Safeguards are intended to ensure that nuclear material and technology are not diverted for weapons purposes," he said. "If India is allowed to have a nuclear program that is half-safeguarded, and half-not, it will be ridiculed as half-baked and would make a mockery of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and of the (Nuclear) Nonproliferation Treaty."
Supplying nuclear fuel to countries that have not signed the treaty derails a delicate balance established between nuclear nations and destroys U.S. credibility when it insists that other nations have to follow the treaty, he said.
"We cannot break the nuclear rules established in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and demand that everyone else plays by them," Markey said.
Sen said India has managed its civil nuclear program responsibly since its inception in the 1950s. "Just because our commitment to nuclear nonproliferation was born out of our own sense of responsibility and restraint, its importance should not be minimized nor trivialized," he said Tuesday.
On India's growing economic influence, Bush tried to ease the concerns of Americans who have suffered when U.S. companies have moved their jobs to India.
"It's true that a number of Americans have lost jobs because of companies that have shifted operations to India," Bush said.
But he said that rather than respond with protectionism policies, he wants the United States to invest in ways to make sure that American workers are skilled for jobs of the 21st century.
The expansion of India's economy means a better life for Indian people, greater stability for the region and a bigger market for America's businesses, workers and farmers, Bush said.
At the same time, Bush said India needs to continue to lift caps on foreign investment and lower tariffs and open its borders to U.S. farm and industrial products. Last year, U.S. exports to India grew by more than 30 percent, and India's middle class — estimated at 300 million people — is larger than the entire U.S. population.
"That middle class is buying air conditioners, kitchen appliances and washing machines and a lot of them from American companies like GE and Whirlpool and Westinghouse," Bush said. "And that means our job base is growing here."