WASHINGTON – President Bush is expressing hope that he'll have a civilian nuclear agreement with India in hand to take to Congress when he returns from his visit next week to South Asia.
In a pre-trip interview with Indian journalists, Bush talked about the difficulty in completing the pact announced last summer during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns is in New Delhi this week trying to close the deal.
Under the agreement, the U.S. would offer nuclear technology and fuel to help India build reactors to meet its growing energy needs. In exchange, India would separate its civilian and military nuclear programs, and allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency access to programs not linked to defense work.
"I appreciate the prime minister's courage last July of laying out a way forward, which I support," Bush said in the interview Wednesday with reporters from The Dainak Bhaskar and The Times of India. The White House released a transcript of the interview Thursday.
"First is to go to India and hopefully reach an agreement on separation, and then bring that agreement back and start selling it to the Congress," Bush said.
Critics of the deal on Capitol Hill say it undermines the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which India has not signed. They say it would put safeguards on India's nuclear energy but not nuclear weapons programs, possibly allowing the spread of nuclear material from India for non-peaceful purposes.
India argues that since it began its nuclear energy program in the 1950s, there has not been one case of nuclear proliferation from India. Bush said he views India as a responsible nuclear nation.
"I do, particularly when they signed the IAEA safeguards, and they have a separation between their military and their civilian nuclear parts of their government," Bush said.
On a light note, Bush was asked whether he'd rather see a cricket match or a movie from Bollywood, as India's film industry is known.
"I'm a cricket match person," Bush said. "As I understand it, I may have a little chance to learn something about cricket. It's a great pastime."
His trip, however, will be light on tourism. Bush is not planning to visit the Taj Mahal, a 17th century landmark.
"I am disappointed with that," Bush said, blaming his scheduler. "People who have seen the Taj Mahal say ... pictures don't do it justice."