The Nuclear Deal With India

US President George W. Bush, left, with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, after Bush's arrival in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, March 1, 2006.
AP Photo/Gurinder Osan
CBS News reporter Charles Wolfson is a former Tel Aviv bureau chief for CBS News, who now covers the State Department.

"Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" is a catch-phrase often used by negotiators trying to conclude a deal and it applies to this week's agreement signed in New Delhi by President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Now, the question is: is "good" good enough?

The pact will open India's civilian nuclear program to international inspection and safeguards and "remove a basic irritant" in U.S.-Indian relations over the past 30 years, according to the chief American negotiator, Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns.

American businesses stand to reap huge profits from the expected sale of equipment, nuclear technology and nuclear fuel as India expands its civilian nuclear program to help fill its demand for more power to meet the needs of its expanding population and economy.

However, the agreement is flawed, according to many, and will certainly run into strong congressional opposition and the deal cannot go forward unless Congress amends legislation now in place.

Only 14 of India's 22 nuclear reactors will come under international safeguards, allowing India to pursue the military side of its nuclear program without scrutiny.

Among several criticisms, opponents don't like the fact that India is not required to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. For Senator Joseph Biden, D., Del., the bottom line is: "Does this deal make us more secure, or less secure?"

Allowing India the benefits without having to sign onto the NPT would create an exception which could be cited by others, such as Iran.

"India is unique," Burns said, explaining to reporters in New Delhi that its nuclear program had been developed on its own and that it had no record of proliferation, unlike its neighbor Pakistan, or North Korea. "So the question that we faced was the following: Is it better to maintain India in isolation, or is it better to try and bring it into the mainstream?"

As for Congress' opposition, Mr. Bush said "Some people just don't want to change and change with the times. But this agreement is in our interest."

In addition to making its case to Congress, Washington also has to persuade the informal international Nuclear Suppliers Group, which supervises nuclear transactions to lift limits now in place on India. While many allies support the deal, China, a geostrategic rival of India, remains a question mark.

The deal has been described as "historic," "landmark," and "unprecedented" and in fact it is all of those. But even negotiator Burns said, "It's not a perfect deal in the sense we haven't captured 100 percent of India's nuclear program."

While the Bush administration has some support in Congress, it now faces another uphill effort to get Congress to go along.

Charles M. Wolfson