WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States and India announced Friday a landmark deal on nuclear cooperation for civil purposes that they said will benefit both countries and strengthen international non-proliferation efforts.
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice says the deal is a step toward "full civil nuclear cooperation."
But the deal is drawing criticism as being too conciliatory to India and opening the way to the spread of nuclear weapons.
For the first time in 30 years, India will have access to U.S. nuclear fuel and technology, even though New Delhi, which has tested nuclear weapons, refuses to join international non-proliferation agreements.
"The conclusion of negotiations on this agreement marks a major step forward in fulfilling the promise of full civil nuclear cooperation as envisioned by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh," said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Indian Foreign Minister Shri Pranab Mukherjee in a joint written statement.
The new civil nuclear cooperation between the two countries will "offer enormous strategic and economic benefits to both countries, including enhanced energy security, a more environmentally friendly energy source, greater economic opportunities, and more robust non-proliferation efforts," the statement said.
India's Cabinet approved the deal Wednesday.
Several steps need to be taken before the agreement can be implemented. India must negotiate an inspection regime with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and gain approval from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group.
The U.S. Congress must also review the deal. Many lawmakers and non-proliferation experts have voiced concern about what they see as U.S. concessions to New Delhi. In particular, the United States has agreed to ensure continued delivery of nuclear fuel to India even if it tests a nuclear weapon and the United States suspends cooperation, as required by law.
U.S. officials said that a further Indian nuclear test is unlikely, although the Indian government has maintained its right to test nuclear weapons and the deal does not place India's considerable nuclear weapons arsenal under international monitoring.
Non-proliferation experts have said the United States' willingness to allow India to reprocess nuclear fuel it provides to New Delhi is inconsistent with its drive in the international community to stop Iran from doing so. Unlike New Delhi, Tehran is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Until now the United States has allowed only key allies like the European Union and Japan to reprocess U.S.-originated fuel on their own soil.
But Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nick Burns told reporters Friday that the agreement "sends an important message to nuclear outlaw regimes, such as Iran."
"It sends a message that if you behave responsibly in regards to nonproliferation, and you play by the rules, you will not penalized, but will be invited to participate more fully in international nuclear trade," he said.
Burns said the United States sees India's civil nuclear program as a special case and doesn't envision entering into an agreement with any other states.
"I can assure you that the United State is not going to suggest a similar deal with any other country in the world. We have always felt of India as an exception," Burns said. "We've made the argument that India has not proliferated its nuclear technology. That India, in effect, outside the system, has played by the rules and the system would be strengthened by bringing it in.
"But we are not anticipating in any way, shape or form a similar deal for any other country." E-mail to a friend