Bush signs U.S.-India nuclear pact into law

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Wednesday signed legislation that will allow the United States and India to open up nuclear trade, saying the two countries are “natural partners.”

His action will pave the way for the details of the agreement to be signed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee in Washington on Friday.

“This agreement sends a signal to the world: nations that follow the path to democracy and responsible behavior will find a friend in the United States of America,” Bush said before he signed the agreement into law.

The pact will provide India with access to U.S. nuclear fuel, reactors and technology, overturning a ban on such trade instituted after India first conducted a nuclear test in 1974.

The India-U.S. deal could open up around $27 billion in investment in 18 to 20 nuclear plants in India over the next 15 years, according to the Confederation of Indian Industry.

“Even though the United States and India are separated by half the globe, we are natural partners as we head into the 21st century,” Bush said.

Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria, Andy Sullivan and Sue Pleming, editing by David Alexander and David Wiessler