There could not have been a worse timing for the signing of the nuclear pact between the U.S. and India last week. While President Bush is leading the international campaign against the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran, it legitimized India's nuclear program, and thus granted India the status of a legitimate nuclear power in every respect.

This happened two years after he announced with great resolve that new nuclear powers should not be added to the list of the five nuclear powers, and eight years after the American administration imposed sanctions on India after it conducted a series of nuclear tests.

Tehran can rub its hands with glee, reading the details of the agreement that Bush signed with Indian Prime Minister Singh. The two states will cooperate in the nuclear sphere, with the U.S sharing know-how with India and providing nuclear fuel for the Indian nuclear reactors. Not only is there no mention of the American sanctions imposed on India, and the fact that it seriously harmed the international campaign to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons - but India continues to boycott the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty and refuses to join its ranks.

That, of course, is not Bush's intention, but the policymakers in Iran can interpret the U.S.-Indian agreement as an American signal, that if Tehran is resolved and determined and completes the development of its nuclear weaponry, the American administration will eventually accept a nuclear Iran.

The agreement with India may say that India will classify 14 of its nuclear reactors as civilian reactors, thus opening them to surveillance by international monitors, but the other eight reactors will be defined as "military installations" with no supervision. India can decide in the future to classify either as civilian or military any new reactor it builds or acquires.

Thus, even the impression of an Indian "payment" to the international struggle to prevent nuclear proliferation has become ridiculous. The country will continue to produce nuclear weapons with those very same military nuclear reactors, and the pace of production will even increase. This is all because it refused to put limits on the amount of fissionable material it will produce from those reactors, and that the U.S. will provide it uranium, so India will be able to use all the uranium it produces for military purposes.

"This agreement is a precedent," said Congressman Edward Markey, "that Iran will be able to use to rightfully claim that the U.S. has double standards. You can't violate those rules and expect Iran to continue playing by them."

When Bush was asked at the joint news conference with the Indian prime minister why the U.S. is rewarding a state that conducted nuclear bomb testing in 1998 and did not sign the NPT, and what message he was sending to other countries, the president responded with "what the agreement says is that things change and times have changed."

That's not a particularly successful response, nor does it strengthen the American position as the country that is supposed to lead the campaign to prevent nuclear weapons from reaching other countries. The agreement with India is, in effect, a simple barter. The Americans agree to take the risk of losing the international campaign to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the world, in exchange for a deal that will help America face the growing power of China, which so worries Bush.

A nuclear India could be a high hurdle for Chinese military ambitions to overcome. The Chinese will have to devote a significant part of its resources to deploy opposite a nuclear power in its neighborhood. It is almost certain that in the wake of the deal, the nuclear arms race in East Asia will accelerate, but that is a price Bush is ready to pay - even if it is totally opposed to his own declarations.

Whatever Bush's motivations for signing the nuclear agreement with India, the American president has in any case set back the nuclear non-proliferation efforts by 30 years. He blatantly violated the rule that was set more than 30 years ago according to which nuclear technology is not provided to countries that have not signed the NPT.

Thus, the American president has greatly harmed the chances of denying nuclear weapons to Iran. From now on, the U.S. will find it difficult to present a morally authoritative position in its negotiations vis a vis the Iranians. And then there's the Israeli angle. If India is accepted by the Americans as a legitimate member of the nuclear club, and even wins some nice benefits from it, it is possible that the time has come to start thinking about certain steps along the nuclear path it paved.