WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought to assure a wary Congress yesterday that a landmark plan to share nuclear technology with India for its civilian program won't undercut efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
''Clearly, this agreement does not constrain India's nuclear weapons program. That was not its purpose," Rice told a House committee. ''Neither, however, as some critics have suggested, does it enhance India's capability to build nuclear weapons."
In the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike expressed serious reservations over the plan and criticized what they called the Bush administration's failure to explain its details to lawmakers earlier.
''It is my view that this is in trouble here," said Representative Gary Ackerman, Democrat of New York, who supports the plan but criticized how the administration has handled it.
The administration needs Congress to change, or approve an exception to, the law that bans civilian nuclear cooperation with countries that have not submitted to full nuclear inspections.
India continues to refuse to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Despite concerns, some lawmakers from both political parties indicated they would back the plan because of an overall goal of strengthening the US-India relationship.
''This is a very good bet for our country," said Senator George Allen, Republican of Virginia.
Others weren't swayed. ''I fear that this deal could end up making our world less safe rather than more safe," said Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin.
Rice testified on the plan during back-to-back hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House International Relations Committee. The administration is pursuing the plan in part because it sees India as an ally in a region dominated by China.
The plan calls for the United States to share nuclear technology and fuel with India to help power its rapidly growing economy. India agreed to allow UN inspections of its civilian nuclear reactors. India's nuclear weapons facilities would be off limits.
Critics on and off Capitol Hill contend the plan could dramatically increase India's nuclear arsenal and weaken decades of efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.