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India nuclear deal: big step on long road

With no progress on Iran, and setbacks on North Korea, the deal may be Bush's only nonproliferation feat.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 3, 2008

Salvage job: US negotiator Christopher Hill (third from right) went to North Korea's capital, Pyongyang, Wednesday to talk disarmament.

Korean Central news Agency/AP



Senate passage of a civilian nuclear deal with India Wednesday may allow the Bush administration to go out of office touting at least one feather in its nonproliferation cap.

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But on two other prickly issues – Iran and North KoreaPresident Bush will almost certainly leave behind deepening crises that will confront the next administration with further-destabilized regions, in Asia and the Middle East, and looming proliferation challenges.

The administration's top negotiator with North Korea is in Pyongyang this week trying to head off the North's retreat from an agreement that had it disabling its nuclear program. Unhappy with Bush's failure to drop North Korea from a list of state sponsors of terrorism – and with what it says are new verification demands – officials from the regime have said they could restart plutonium reprocessing as early as this week.

The glitch in what was supposed to be an important foreign-policy achievement of the Bush presidency comes a week after the US joined others on the United Nations Security Council to pass a fourth resolution on Iran. The resolution, probably the last international action on Iran under this administration, includes no new sanctions or other measures to increase pressure on Iran to halt uranium enrichment.

"It's clear the next administration is going to inherit deteriorated conditions on both fronts" of Iran and North Korea, says Robert Einhorn, a former assistant secretary of State for nonproliferation and now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. The Security Council resolution "was the last gasp of this administration on the Iran issue," he says, while North Korea is "backtracking," perhaps as a ploy to eke out more concessions from a departing administration.

The civilian nuclear deal with India paves the way for the first nuclear cooperation with the booming South Asian giant since India tested a nuclear weapon in 1974. The Bush administration and leaders in Congress hail the accord as a new chapter in America's relations with the world's most populous democracy. They say the accord, which opens India's civilian nuclear plants but not its military nuclear installations to international inspections, advances nonproliferation goals with a country that never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).