India on Monday signed a pact governing UN inspections of its civilian nuclear plants, a key step toward implementing a US-engineered accord allowing India to import nuclear materials and technology.
India will be required to make 14 of 22 nuclear reactors subject to regular non-proliferation inspections by 2014 under the terms of the deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s non-proliferation watchdog.
IAEA oversight was stipulated when the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group agreed in September to lift a three-decade ban on nuclear trade with India, imposed for its past nuclear tests and refusal to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Washington pushed through the Nuclear Suppliers Group "waiver" after concluding its own nuclear cooperation pact to supply India with nuclear technology.
US officials said the deal would forge a strategic partnership with the world's largest democracy, help India to meet rising energy demand and open up a nuclear market worth billions of dollars.
The ban on nuclear commerce with India had been in place since 1974, when India conducted its first atom bomb test.
Ending India's nuclear isolation has drawn international criticism since it remains outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty, meant to stop the spread and production of nuclear weapons, and a companion international agreement banning nuclear tests.
An Indian delegation was in talks last week about an "Additional Protocol" agreement with the IAEA, which would give inspectors more information on India's nuclear-related exports, imports and source material, an agency official said.