NEW DELHI -- Officials trumpeted a US-India civilian nuclear deal as the centerpiece of the countries' new partnership, but India struck a note of caution yesterday over "extraneous" provisions.
There is broad agreement that the deal, which allows the shipment of nuclear fuel and know-how to India, is reshaping India-US relations and could alter the global power balance.
But India's concerns over some of the bill's provisions, while not enough to scuttle the deal, highlight challenges the two counties face as they try to overcome decades of mistrust.
American and Indian officials also need to work out a separate technical nuclear cooperation agreement, expected to be finalized next year.
The civilian pact cleared the Senate yesterday after sailing through the House Friday night. It is headed to the White House to be signed by President Bush.
US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns called the deal a "historic step" and told reporters in New Delhi on Friday that it "is the symbolic center of this new strategic partnership between India and the United States."
The deal should further open a huge market for US companies and give India the energy it needs.
But it is far more fraught politically, as evidenced by India's more muted reaction to US lawmakers' approval of the pact.
While India's foreign ministry also called the deal historic, it said the US legislation "contains certain extraneous and prescriptive provisions."
"No legislation enacted in a foreign country can take away from us the sovereign right to conduct foreign policy determined solely by our national interests," it said in a statement.
The statement was referring to language in the bill that would require Bush and his successors to determine if New Delhi is cooperating with US efforts to confront Iran about its nuclear ambitions.
Indian officials say they can live with the weakened, nonbinding language that made it into the final bill.
But many in India are rankled by Washington's suggestions that New Delhi should support US policy, be it on Iran or China, countries with which India is also seeking closer ties.
India and the United States "will have to sit together and find out how they can promote their respective national interests, and work together to promote global peace and security," said General Ashok Mehta, a retired Indian officer and military commentator. "It's not certain they can."
India also has concerns about provisions that could limit its right to reprocess spent atomic fuel and employ other sensitive nuclear technologies.
"We already possess these technologies -- we have had the ability to reprocess since 1965 -- so this kind of language is causing concern to us," said M.R. Srinivasan, a member of the Indian government's Atomic Energy Commission.
"There is also the question of a future weapons test," he said. A test could nullify the deal, but "suppose Pakistan were to test. There could be a legitimate reaction in an Indian test."
India and its neighboring archrival Pakistan, both nuclear-armed, have fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947.
The bill carves out an exemption in American law to allow US civilian nuclear trade with India, in exchange for Indian safeguards and inspections at its 14 civilian nuclear plants. Eight military plants would remain off-limits.
Congressional action was needed because US law bars nuclear trade with countries like India that have not submitted to full international inspections.
Critics say the cooperation plan could boost India's nuclear arsenal and spark a nuclear arms race with Pakistan.
The deal "brings about the qualitative change in relations between India and Washington," said Talat Masood, a Pakistani defense analyst. It "will make Pakistan much more insecure."
Economically, the benefits for India and the United States could be huge.
Energy, or lack thereof, is the Achilles' heel of India's fast-growing economy, and officials in the country are looking to nuclear power as a potential solution.
But India lacks uranium, and the deal will pave the way for its access to the international nuclear fuel market, from which it has been excluded for refusing to sign the international Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.