NEW DELHI - President Bush got a victory Thursday on his first visit to India, securing a landmark nuclear energy agreement that he says could help ease energy prices in the United States.
Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the deal, which will open most Indian reactors to international inspections and provide the growing nation with U.S. nuclear technology, during a joint news conference after meeting privately to hammer out details.
"We made history," Singh said of the deal that will aid India's quest for more global influence.
Under the accord, the United States will share its nuclear know-how and fuel with India to help power its fast-growing economy. It represents a major shift in policy for the United States, which imposed temporary sanctions on India in 1998 after it conducted nuclear tests.
"We concluded an historic agreement today on nuclear power," Bush said. "It's not an easy job for the prime minister to achieve this agreement, I understand. It's not easy for the American president to achieve this agreement, but it's a necessary agreement. It's one that will help both our peoples."
Critics said the deal undermines the Nuclear Nonproliferation Agreement, which India won't sign. And they say it sends the wrong signal to leaders of North Korea and Iran, who have snubbed their noses at international calls to halt their nuclear weapons programs.
The agreement will require U.S. congressional approval. Bush immediately acknowledged that will be difficult to win.
Bush said he will tell lawmakers that the U.S.-India relationship is changing for the better and that it is in the United States' interest to cooperate with India on its nuclear programs. He also said the deal could be a boon for U.S. consumers.
"Proliferation is certainly a concern and a part of our discussions, and we've got a good faith gesture by the Indian government that I'll be able to take to the Congress," Bush said. "But the other thing that our Congress has got to understand - that it's in our economic interests that India have a civilian nuclear power industry to help take the pressure off of the global demand for energy. ... To the extent that we can reduce demand for fossil fuels, it will help the American consumer."
Singh's leftist allies also criticized the pact, saying it paves the way for U.S. meddling in Indian affairs.
"Today is one of the most shameful days in the history of independent India," said Shambhu Shrivastava, spokesman for the socialist Samata Party.
A top official of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party said the agreement sounded good, but must not compromise national security.
India argues that it has been a good steward of nuclear material for five decades, and that there has not been one instance of nuclear proliferation coming from India.
Singh repeatedly thanked Bush for shepherding the deal.
"But for his leadership, this day would probably have not come so soon," Singh said.
Not everyone in India was pleased about Bush's involvement in its affairs. Demonstrators gathered across the country, including an estimated 10,000 people who chanted "Bush go back!" and "Down with Bush!" a few blocks from where the two leaders met.
Many carried the red flags of India's leftist political parties or wore white skullcaps indicating they were Muslim. India has the world's second-largest Muslim population, behind Indonesia.
Bush and Singh signed an agreement in July to provide India with nuclear fuel for its booming but energy-starved economy. But the deal hinged upon determining how to segregate India's nuclear weapons work from its commercial nuclear program, and place the latter under international inspection, in a way that satisfied both sides.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Nick Burns said India agreed to open a majority of its nuclear power plants to international safeguards.
A senior administration official said India classified 14 of its 22 reactors as civilian, which would open them to international inspection. Eight were deemed military reactors, making them exempt from inspection.
Bush began more than 12 hours of events and meetings on Thursday with a striking arrival ceremony in a sun-drenched plaza at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the president's palace. He reviewed troops of the Indian armed services outfitted in orange turbans and brown dress uniforms with colorful sashes and marveled at a cavalry unit on horseback that earlier had flanked his limousine.
"I have been received in many capitals around the world but I have never seen a reception as well-organized or as grand," Bush said.
Bush and his wife, Laura, then visited a memorial to India's independence leader, M.K. Gandhi, standing in stocking feet for a moment of silence and wreath-laying at the site of his cremation in 1948. Following tradition, the Bushes tossed flower petals on the cremation platform - a gesture repeated for news photographers.
After meeting with U.S. and Indian CEOs and answering questions from the media, Bush and Singh had a lunch of smoked salmon, mutton and vegetables. Singh spoke of how another American-Indian duo - Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi - pushed for the peaceful resolution of conflicts.
The day was to end with an elaborate State Dinner.
After India, Bush was headed to Pakistan where on Thursday at least one bomb ripped through the parking lot of the Marriott Hotel in Karachi, exploding windows in the nearby U.S. consulate.
Bush said he had been briefed on the bombing and had been told the victims included at least one U.S. citizen, a foreign service officer he did not identify by name.
The attack occurred hundreds of miles from Islamabad, where Bush's events were to take place, but underscored the need for the extraordinary security planned for his visit.
"Terrorists and killers are not going to prevent me from going to Pakistan," he said.