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Rice hails approval of India nuclear deal

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to travel to India to discuss pact
  • Controversial measure clears way for U.S. exports of nuclear know-how to India
  • Senate approval of bill comes on vote of 86-13; it has already passed in House
  • U.S. companies could earn billions building nuclear plants in India
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday praised Congress' approval of a controversial nuclear deal with India, saying it "bolsters our partnership with the world's largest democracy and a growing economic power."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the nuclear deal will strengthen the U.S. partnership with India.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the nuclear deal will strengthen the U.S. partnership with India.

"The initiative will help India's population of more than one billion to meet its rapidly increasing energy needs in an environmentally responsible way while reducing the growth of carbon emissions," Rice said in a written statement.

The Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure on Wednesday evening, clearing the way for the United States to export nuclear know-how to New Delhi after a ban lasting decades.

The vote was 86-13.

The House of Representatives passed the bill without debate on Saturday, meaning the next step is for President Bush to sign it into law. Bush has been a strong advocate of the deal.

Rice will head to India on Friday to discuss the measure with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Indian officials.

Sen. Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, said the deal would not only "set the stage for a stronger U.S.-India relationship" but would promote stability in India's troubled neighborhood.

"This agreement is indicative of a new era in Indian foreign policy," Dodd said Wednesday. "An era in which India will see all the world's powers as potential partners in efforts to address its own needs and the needs of others. ... I believe that this new era will bring increased stability and progress in South Asia."

India and Pakistan have fought several wars since they became independent in 1947, and both countries have tested nuclear weapons.

Before the vote, Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, spoke out against what he called the "flawed" legislation.

"If we pass this legislation, we will reward India for flouting the most important arms control agreement in history, the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and we will gravely undermine our case against hostile nations that seek to do the same," he said.

He also said Congress had not debated the bill properly.

"It was hustled through (the House of Representatives) without any hearings and without a vote in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Here in the Senate, the Foreign Relations Committee held just one hearing with just one witness who spoke in support of the agreement."

Harkin then voted against the bill.

The two presidential candidates, Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, both voted for the bill.

President Bush urged the Senate to pass the bill in a statement released before the vote, saying it "represents a major milestone in the transformation of our nation's important relationship with India."

One senator had anonymously been preventing the bill from coming to a vote, but the leaders of the Senate announced Tuesday night that the vote would go ahead.

The Indian nuclear market is a rich prize, and the agreement could potentially open the way for U.S. companies to earn billions of dollars building nuclear power plants in India. The French government clinched its own nuclear trade deal with India on Wednesday when President Nicolas Sarkozy signed an agreement in Paris. That now puts French companies in the running for some of the same contracts U.S. companies want.

In exchange for access to U.S. nuclear technology, India would allow international inspections of its civilian -- but not military -- nuclear power plants. It would also promise not to resume testing of nuclear weapons.

The U.S. banned nuclear trade with India after India detonated a nuclear device in 1974 and refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Now India has agreed to give access to international inspectors at some of its reactors. And in an informal agreement between the two nations, the United States says it would halt any nuclear cooperation should India resume testing.

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