A statement released on Monday after talks with visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Bush would ask Congress to change US law and work with allies to adjust international rules to allow nuclear trade with India.

Washington had barred providing atomic technology to India because of New Delhi's status as a nuclear power that has refused to sign the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), which was designed to halt the spread of nuclear weapons.

Voluntary commitment

But the joint statement said: "As a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology, India should acquire the same benefits and advantages as other states."

India is not a signatory to the
Non-proliferation Treaty

Bush would "seek agreement from Congress to adjust US laws and policies, and the United States will work with friends and allies to adjust international regimes to enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India", it said.

India, which tested a nuclear weapon in 1998, agreed to identify and separate its civilian and military nuclear programmes, continue a moratorium on nuclear testing and place civilian nuclear facilities under the UN nuclear watchdog.

But these are all voluntary, not legal, commitments, and
India continues to remain outside the NPT, the bedrock of international arms control.

Contradictive policy

"The president just gave India everything it wanted. He's rewarding India despite that country's remaining outside the global NPT regime," said Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

India is seeking a permanent
seat on the UN security council

"This is the triumph of great power politics over non-proliferation policy. I don't know how the president is going to square this circle when he says non-proliferation is his highest priority and still does this," he added.

The US appears eager to improve ties with the world's largest democracy, attracted by India's booming technology expertise, growing commercial market and strategic importance as a counterweight to China both militarily and economically.

Singh said India had an "ambitious and attainable national road map" in civilian nuclear power, aimed at fuelling economic growth for its billion people. He touted recent economic growth of 7% a year.

Ignoring the rules?

Opponents of the change say setting aside the rules for
India would make it harder for the US to stop Russian or Chinese transfers to states of concern.

"The potential benefits of nuclear power for India's energy sector are much more elusive and distant than any of the proponents think," said Henry Sokolski, head of the Non-proliferation Policy Education Centre in Washington.

"As a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology, India should acquire the same benefits and advantages as other states"

Indo-US joint statement

"But what is immediate and dramatic is how this decision is going to undermine the good behaviour of countries including Russia and France, who have adhered to very tough nuclear supplier guidelines," he said.

Bush's push to help India increase its coal and nuclear power generating capacity is at least partly to give New Delhi an alternative to a proposed $4-billion gas pipeline deal with Tehran, which Washington accuses of trying to secretly develop nuclear weapons.

No UN seat

Indian media had described the nuclear issue as a "touchstone" for US willingness to work with India and accept its growing role on the international stage.

Singh, who said India had a "compelling case" for a permanent seat on an expanded UN Security Council, did not get everything on his Washington wishlist.

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Bush told Singh the Washington wanted fundamental UN reforms before any expansion of the council and hoped there would be no vote on council enlargement in coming weeks.