House Approves Bill to Allow Shipping Civil Nuclear Technology to India

The House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly to allow U.S. shipments of civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India, handing President George W. Bush a major victory on one of his top foreign policy initiatives.

Congressman Tom Lantos said the proposal, which reverses decades of U.S. anti-proliferation policy, is "a tidal shift in relations between India and the United States."

"We are at a hinge of history, as we seek to build a fundamentally new relationship," said Lantos, the top Democrat on the House International Relations Committee and a strong champion of the plan.

Wednesday's vote was 359 to 68.

The Senate has yet to vote on the plan, which must clear several more hurdles before nuclear trade between the two countries could begin.

For Bush to implement his accord with India, he needs lawmakers to exempt New Delhi from U.S. laws that bar nuclear trade with countries that have not submitted to full international inspections.

Congressional action is crucial because India built its nuclear weapons program outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which provides civil nuclear trade in exchange for a pledge from nations not to pursue nuclear weapons.

Several lawmakers strongly questioned the initiative, arguing that it would undermine the world's premier nonproliferation treaty and could lead to the United States supporting a massive increase in India's nuclear stockpile.

Democratic Congressman Ed Markey portrayed it as a "historic failure" that "pours nuclear fuel on the fire of an India-Pakistan nuclear arms race." Pakistan is India's nuclear-armed archrival and neighbor; Islamabad has not been offered a similar deal by the United States.