This meeting, jointly sponsored by the Center's Division of International Security Studies and the Asia Program, and by the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was another in the ongoing Nonproliferation Forum series.

At the conclusion of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington in July 2005, a joint U.S.-Indian statement committed the two sides to work toward full civil nuclear cooperation. Squassoni observed that a bilateral agreement, if approved by Congress, would set an important precedent as the first instance of U.S. nuclear cooperation with a state that is not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). President Bush's announcement of the U.S. intention to conclude such an accord was made against the political backdrop of the transformed relationship between Washington and New Delhi since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Squassoni emphasized that the situation is very fluid and no action is expected before the impending March 2006 visit of President Bush to India. Negotiations are ongoing between the United States and India to reach a draft document. Once that text is completed, the agreement must be submitted to Congress for ratification. Existing statutes (such as the Atomic Energy Act and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act) will require the president to issue exemptions, waivers, and determinations to permit nuclear commerce with a non-NPT party that has acquired nuclear weapons. These thorny issues of process are linked to substantive issues.

Squassoni argued that a sharp divide has emerged between foreign policy "realists" and "NPT purists" over the proposed agreement. The debate over the proposed nuclear agreement turns on whether or not India is viewed as a proliferation problem. The Bush administration has hailed the prospect of a U.S.-Indian accord as a "win" that would bring India, long ostracized in the nuclear area because of its 1974 and 1998 nuclear tests, into the nonproliferation mainstream, while at the same time solidifying a key geo-strategic relationship. The realists regard the agreement as bowing to the inevitable (since India will never relinquish its nuclear arsenal).

For the nonproliferation purists, the accord is anathema. They argue that its potential costs far outweigh the benefits. A major concern is that by undercutting the core bargain of the NPT (governing nuclear supplier conduct), the precedent could be seized upon by other suppliers, such as China, to rationalize their own nuclear commerce with states outside the NPT regime, such as Pakistan. Moreover, the deal would give India access to the international uranium market, which would then free up its domestic reserves that could be channeled into nuclear weapons production. Finally, the accord opens up Washington to the charge of holding a double standard as it takes a tough line with North Korea and Iran while actively cooperating with India.