Nuke Bill Approved by 85-12 Votes

US committee endorses Indo-US nuclear deal
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a Bill to amend U.S. laws and permit nuclear trade with India, which is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Bill explicitly stipulates that the agreement will be terminated if India conducts a nuclear test, proliferates nuclear weapons or materials, or breaks its agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or the United States.

The committee approved the Bill in a 16-2 vote. At the start of the debate committee chairman Sen. Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican, urged colleagues on the panel not to support “killer amendments.” As members of the committee one after the other added their names as co-sponsors to the Bill initial concerns of a tough battle faded away. Two Democratic senators — Barbara Boxer of California and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin — voted against the bill.

Mr. Feingold attempted to add a binding amendment that would ensure that the nuclear deal would be only civilian in nature and none of the assistance from the U.S. would be used to develop India’s nuclear arsenal. Mr. Lugar called this a “killer amendment” and it was defeated in a vote.

Senator John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said the exceptional deal “makes all the sense in the world. India, unlike some signatories to the NPT, has been a good steward of nuclear materials and technologies. India can be a critical ally to advance our global nonproliferation efforts.”

Senator George Allen, Virginia Republican, said the U.S. wanted “India as a strategic partner – we want them by our side. “Ms. Boxer, however, complained that the amended Bill, while an improvement on the Bush administration’s proposal, “doesn’t address the major proliferation problem I have with the deal.” She worried that providing nuclear assistance to India’s nuclear programme will free up India’s domestic sources for use in its nuclear weapons programme. 

Senator Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, introduced an amendment that should India’s actions trigger a U.S. cutoff of nuclear technology then the U.S. should urge other nations not to undercut it by supplying those materials. He noted “serious infractions” would lead to this situation. The amendment was accepted.

A related Bill was passed in the House International Relations Committee on Tuesday by a margin of 37-5.

Senate committee co-chairman Sen. Joseph Biden, Delaware Democrat, worked with Mr. Lugar on the new Bill. The Bill requires annual presidential certifications that India is meeting its commitments under the July 2005 joint statement, its separation plan, New Delhi’s safeguards agreement and Additional Protocol with the IAEA, the 123 Agreement, and applicable U.S. laws regarding U.S. exports to India. 

Mr. Biden said his support for the deal was based on “trust” in the Indian government. He pointed out that while the U.S. nonproliferation lobby has complained that this deal would undercut American commitments this was also a very difficult deal for the Indian government as the Bharatiya Janata Party is opposed to it.

The Bill sets the rules for subsequent congressional consideration of a 123 Agreement between the U.S. and India. A 123 Agreement is the term for a peaceful nuclear cooperation pact with a foreign country under the conditions outlined in Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act.

Like the House committee Bill, the Lugar-Biden Bill preserves Congress’ prerogatives with regard to the 123 Agreement. Under the Bush administration’s original proposal, the 123 Agreement would have entered into force 90 days after submission unless both houses of Congress voted against it and then overcame a likely presidential veto. 

Mr Lugar said he was pleased the administration changed course on this matter and agreed to submit the 123 Agreement with India to Congress under normal procedures. This means that both the House and the Senate must cast a positive vote of support before the 123 Agreement can enter into force. “In our view, this fully protects Congress’ role in the process and ensures congressional views will be taken into consideration,” he said. 

The Senate committee hearing was initially scheduled for June 28 but was postponed to suit the schedules of committee members. 

Mr Lugar called the July 18 civilian nuclear deal “the most important strategic diplomatic initiative undertaken by President Bush.” The Senate panel has undertaken an extensive review of the India nuclear agreement. Four public hearings have been held with testimony from 17 witnesses, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In closed session, members were given a classified briefing from Undersecretaries of State Nicholas Burns and Robert Joseph. 

President George W. Bush was scheduled to meet Mr Lugar on Monday and discuss today’s hearing. That meeting was cancelled at the last minute. 

Mr Lugar had submitted 174 written questions for the record to the Department of State on details of the agreement. “By concluding this pact and the far-reaching set of cooperative agreements that accompany it, the President has embraced a long-term outlook that seeks to enhance the core strength of our foreign policy in a way that will give us new diplomatic options and improve global stability,” Mr Lugar said. 

“The US-Indian agreement resulted from a delicately balanced negotiation. Neither side got everything it wanted,” Mr Lugar noted. “Nevertheless, the Bush Administration and the Indian Government came to the conclusion that the agreement was in the national security interest of both countries,” he added, urging members of the committee to vote in favour of the bill without adding conditions that would kill the agreement. 

Mr Biden said it was essential to get an “overwhelming” majority in the committee and urged that the legislation be sent to the floor of the Senate with a “strong endorsement” from the committee.

Indo-US nuclear deal clears hurdle in House
June 28, 2006
NEW DELHI: History was on the verge of being written on Capitol Hill, Washington, when the US Congress took the first stride towards endorsing the India-US nuclear deal by turning down opponents' amendment by convincing margins. 

In what is seen as a prelude to a Congressional "yes" for the landmark nuclear agreement, the House squashed half a dozen amendments that were designed to be "deal-breakers". 

In all the votes, the numbers of those who rejected the amendments stood around a firm 32. In fact, on an amendment asking the US president to certify that India would sign the NPT, it went up to a formidable 36. 

The solidity was seen as an assurance that the Bush administration had lined up enough bipartisan support to get the deal past the barricades erected by non-proliferation hardliners, many of them suspected to be working at the instance of Islamabad or Beijing. 

The final vote will coax open the doors of the US Congress to secure for India — and only India — an exemption that allows it to access nuclear technology, equipment and knowhow from US and other countries. 

The bipartisan support for the Bill — now renamed "US and India Nuclear Cooperation Promotion Act, 2006" — determines its passage when it is put to a full-floor vote.
A Senate version will be debated and voted on Wednesday. The US administration threw its weight behind the legislation, working on the Congress to remove "deal-breaking" clauses, according to sources. 

Even President Bush personally met four top bosses of the Congress — Henry Hyde, Tom Lantos, Richard Lugar and Joe Biden — on Monday to push the deal. 

It came days after the powerful US vice-president Dick Cheney publicly rooted for the deal. It didn't deter the non-proliferation lobby in Washington though. 

On Monday, NGOs like Friends Committee for Nuclear Legislation was seen distributing tin cans on Capitol Hill with the words, "CAN the Indian nuclear deal." 

However, there is unhappiness in India about a non-binding clause in the legislation which asks the US administration to "secure" India's cooperation to isolate and sanction Iran for its nuclear weapons capability. 

While this is only a statement of policy and not binding on India, New Delhi could have done without it. It's liable to resurrect passions among political parties, particularly as UP elections draw nearer.

'US-India nuke deal can shake world order'
April 03, 2006
WASHINGTON: The US-India civil nuclear deal has "the potential to shake the international order" but it is a tough agreement to sell to the US Congress and Senate, The Washington Post reported on Monday. 

In an extensive report, which goes behind the scene of the difficulties and tough negotiations that attended the deal-making, the paper said: "Beyond the invasion of Iraq, few of Bush's decisions have as much potential to shake the international order than his deal with India, supporters and opponents agree." 

It reported that the "debate over the deal has pitted against each other two powerful national security goals - the desire to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and the desire to counter the rise of China, in this case by accelerating New Delhi's ascent as a global power". 

US President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finalised the deal when the former visited New Delhi last month. The report said: "After three decades of treating India as a pariah because it used a civilian nuclear program to produce fissile material for weapons, Bush decided the United States would forgive the transgression. 

India would be able to buy foreign-made nuclear reactors if it opened its civilian facilities to international inspections - while being allowed to substantially ramp up its ability to produce materials for nuclear weapons." 

Among the details that the Post report disclosed was that India had pushed hard to be recognised as a nuclear weapons state. 

"They were really demanding that we recognise them as a weapons state," said a senior official who was knowledgeable about the discussions. "Thank god we said no to that, but they almost got it. The Indians were incredibly greedy that day. They were getting 99 percent of what they asked for and still they pushed for 100," the report said. 

The newspaper said the US administration cast off an incremental approach on easing nuclear rules and opted instead for what an aide to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described as "the big bang", designed to bring historically non-aligned India firmly into the US camp. 

Rice is scheduled to testify on the nuclear deal before the Congress this week. Going by her pronouncements so far, she is expected to strongly recommend the deal as being good both bilaterally and internationally. 

N-deal bills moved in US Congress
Chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House International Relations Committee today introduced bills in the US Congress aimed at amending the Atomic Energy Act and facilitating nuclear trade with India.

The bills, based on the proposed legislation on the US-India civilian nuclear agreement, were introduced in the House and Senate at the request of US President George W. Bush’s administration.

By providing this draft legislation to the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Bush administration took the first step in initiating a congressional review of the US-India civilian nuclear agreement.

Speaking to reporters at the State Department here this afternoon, Under-Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns noted, “We are in round one of a 15-round match”.

Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said his panel would closely review the proposed nuclear cooperation agreement, the Indian separation plan and the legislation.

“The committee will commence the review with a classified briefing from Under-Secretaries Nick Burns and Bob Joseph in the last week of March. During the first week of April, Secretary (of State Condoleezza) Rice will testify in an open hearing”, Mr Lugar said.

Congressmen Henry Hyde and Tom Lantos, leaders of the House International Relations Committee, introduced a similar bill in the House.

When the Congress would return from its Easter recess in April, the Senate committee would receive testimony from panels of outside experts who both support and oppose the agreement, Mr Lugar said.

“This schedule should be looked on as the beginning of the oversight and review process; it is possible that additional committee hearings and briefings will be necessary”, he added.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had held one hearing on the issue so far, at which Mr Burns and Mr Joseph as well as non-proliferation experts testified.

Mr Lugar was part of a congressional delegation that met Mr Bush at the White House last week to discuss details of the civil nuclear agreement.

In recent weeks, he had met administration officials repeatedly on this matter.

Mr Burns said a somewhat lengthy process of debate lay ahead, adding that the administration was encouraged by the number of members of the Congress who had spoken out in support of the deal.

He acknowledged that members had also raised some objections and questions about the agreement.

Mr Burns said the administration expected a vigorous debate on Capitol Hill and members of the Congress had a right to full briefings from US officials on the nuts and bolts of the agreement. “We think that we are putting a good case”, he said.

Miss Rice had sent individual letters and a package explaining the deal to members of the Congress and would meet the congressional leadership again next week to allay concerns about the consequences of the agreement.

Under the deal, the Bush administration hoped to share nuclear technology with India, a nation that had not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Mr Burns, who had played a key role in negotiating the deal with the Indians, noted that it was now up to the congressional leadership on how they wanted to go forward.

“We respect the separation of powers”, he said, referring to distinctions between executive and legislative branches in the US system of governance. The Bush administration suggested an India-specific waiver of amendments to the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, that currently barred trade in nuclear technology and dual-use technology with countries that did not accept full-scope safeguards on its nuclear facilities.

The bills were introduced in the Congress on the eve of a recess for the Irish holiday of St. Patrick’s Day.

Mr Burns was hopeful that hearings and a vote on the bills would be completed by May, at which time the administration hoped to approach the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group with a request to allow nuclear trade with India.

Earlier this week, Mr Hyde said the US Congress might seek conditions for the approval of the nuclear deal.

Mr Lantos, who co-chairs the House International Relations Committee with Mr Hyde, noted that the issues involved in the deal were complicated and technical, and it would take some time for the Congress to absorb those.



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