Senate Passes U.S.-India Nuclear Trade Deal

President Bush notched a big win tonight when the Senate voted 86 to 13 to approve a deal to trade in civilian nuclear equipment with India that could mean billions of dollars for U.S. companies.

The House had already approved the measure, and the president said after the vote that he looked forward to signing the bill and "continuing to strengthen the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership." 

The Bush administration had pursued the deal since 2006. And the Indian-American community and big businesses eager to cash in on India’s burgeoning demand for nuclear power aided the president’s global lobbying effort. In recent weeks, their focus had been on wavering lawmakers who continued to have reservations about aspects of the deal.

Still, some Democratic senators, including Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Tom Harkin of Iowa said they continued to oppose the agreement because it threatened to hamper nuclear weapons nonproliferation efforts, said opponents and supporters of the deal.

Bingaman and Dorgan offered an amendment to the bill that Dorgan said would have canceled the larger deal if India went on to test nuclear weapons, but it failed on a voice vote.

The Bush administration, lobbying up until the last minute, had issued a statement earlier saying the amendment threatened to sink the accord.

“The administration considers this amendment to be unnecessary and potentially harmful to the success of U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative,” said the statement of administration policy that also tried to assuage any concerns about India being allowed to proceed with nuclear weapons testing.

“We have made clear to the government of India that sustained commitment to its moratorium on nuclear testing will be important to a strategic partnership with the United States,” the statement said.

The arms control community issued a pre-emptive statement opposing the deal.

“Congress missed an important opportunity to remedy many problems with the agreement and prevent the damage to non-proliferation efforts that will result from this deal,” said Leonor Tomero, director for nuclear nonproliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. “Rushing this agreement through Congress, without careful consideration of its implications, just so outgoing administrations in both the United States and India could add it to their legacies was a mistake that will come back to haunt us."