President Bush on Monday signed a civilian nuclear deal with India, allowing fuel and know-how to be shipped to the world's largest democracy even though it has not submitted to full international inspections.

"The bill will help keep America safe by paving the way for India to join the global effort to stop the spread of nuclear weapons," Bush said.

The bill carves out an exemption in U.S. law to allow civilian nuclear trade with India in exchange for Indian safeguards and inspections at its 14 civilian nuclear plants. Eight military plants, however, would remain off-limits.

"This is an important achievement for the whole world. After 30 years outside the system, India will now operate its civilian nuclear energy program under internationally accepted guidelines and the world is going to be safer as a result," Bush said in a bill-signing ceremony at the White House.

Critics have said the measure undermines efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons and technology and could spark a nuclear arms race in Asia by boosting India's atomic arsenal. India still refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Critics complain the deal undermines efforts to prevent states like Iran and North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The White House said India was unique because it had protected its nuclear technology and not been a proliferator. The Bush administration said the pact deepens ties with a democratic Asia power, but was not designed as a counterweight to the rising power of China.