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US President Bush, wraps up South Asian visit

Bush braces for a daunting political challenge at home in persuading Congress to approve a historic nuclear deal with India.

india Updated: Mar 06, 2006 03:52 IST
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US President George W Bush returned to Washington on Sundayfrom a landmark South Asia trip, bracing for a daunting political challenge at home in persuading Congress to approve a historic nuclear deal with India.

The President, who visited Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, wrapped up his maiden South Asian visit On Saturday clutching a landmark nuclear deal with India and assurances from Pakistan that it will not waver in the "war on terror".

Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sealed what they hailed as an "historic" nuclear deal that aims to lift three-decade-old US restrictions on sharing civilian nuclear technology with India.

The nuclear agreement, which places 14 of India's 22 nuclear power reactors under international safeguards, was the highlight of Bush's three-day trip to India.

It commits the Bush administration to seeking approval from the US Congress and the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group in order to share American civilian nuclear technology with the booming Asian giant.

But the deal faces bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill, with several lawmakers wary and some, like Democratic Representative Ed Markey, even vowing to block it outright, saying it has "blown a hole" in the world's nuclear rules.

"This nuclear deal has been described as a historic deal -- but it is in fact a historic failure of this president to tackle the real nuclear threats that we face," Markey, co-chair of the Bipartisan Task Force on Nonproliferation, said in a recent statement.

Several Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, praised the civil nuclear energy agreement as a milestone in improving relations with India.

Bush launched his trip under extraordinary security on Wednesday with a surprise stopover in Afghanistan, his first since the United States led a global campaign to overthrow the militant Taliban regime after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

The centre-piece of his five-day trip was the clinching of the civilian nuclear deal with India that aimed to firm up the strategic partnership between the world's most powerful and populous democracies.

But the "war on terror" kept haunting Bush during the regional swing. On Thursday, when he was meeting with Prime Minister Singh in New Delhi, an American diplomat and a US consulate employee were killed by a suicide bomber in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi.

A day later, while Bush travelled to the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, where nearly half of the population are Muslim, posters of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden were held up by demonstrators opposed to US foreign policies.

Counter-terrorism was a common theme in Bush's talks with Singh, Pakistani military ruler General Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.