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US coalition to fight N-deal
Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC | February 27, 2006 13:53 IST
The ink had barely dried on the US-India Joint Statement issued by President George W Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh July 18 last year when Congressman Edward Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, the fiercest nonproliferation advocate in the US House of Representatives, introduced an amendment strongly opposing the nuclear deal which was the centerpiece of the agreement.
The legislation, co-sponsored by Congressman Fred Upton, Michigan Republican breezed through the massive Energy Conference Committee in the House, but the Senate conferees, at the behest of the Administration, ensured that it was not going to be part of the final bill and were able to quash it before Congress adjourned for its summer recess.
Now on the eve of the President's departure to India, Markey, co-chair of bipartisan House Nonproliferation Task Force, is on the warpath again. This time, he has assembled a powerful coalition --comprising several arms control organizations led by the Arms Control Association, The Union of Concerned Scientists, and envirormental groups,including The Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club -- to try and scuttle the deal.
'We believe that it's an agreement that is not in the best interests of the security of the United States and the rest of the world,' he said while announcing the formation of the coalition.
Recalling 'that initial unanimous bipartisan opposition to the deal,' which 'gives you an indication of the problems that exist in making the case both to the US Congress and to the world,' he argued that 'the Nuclear Suppliers Group is an essential part of this whole equation and includes many countries that really do believe in the upholding of the nonproliferation regime that exists in the world.'
The coalition would start working 'as the President is beginning to head for the airport to take off,' to India, and it would 'begin the effort in Congress to rally the members to let them know how much we expect of him in this visit.
'So right now, we are just really at the beginning. But again, as I was pointing out, last summer's amendment, which I made in the Conference Committee is a pretty strong indication of the wariness that most members are viewing this issue.'
Markey denied that he was anti-India, telling rediff-India Abroad that "I am a friend of India and many of the people who consider themselves big friends of India think there are better ways for the United States to help India in the electricity generating sector that would help both climate change and the pollution respiratory element related issues in India combined with the retention of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, without this exception."
On the nuclear separation plan that the Administration's point man Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns has been negotiating for the past few days in New Delhi, and may likely be signed during the visit of Bush, Markey said, "The premise to me is an oxymoron. There cannot be a credible separation plan without full scope safeguards and the entire purpose of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards is to prevent the diversion of nuclear materials from a civilian reactor to military use."
"But in India we would be imposing safeguards on civilian plants when there would be a military nuclear infrastructure operating in parallel and that renders safeguards as illusory. They may give some modicum of comfort that the reactors and our nuclear fuel aren't directly supporting the Indian nuclear weapons arsenal, but would be indirectly assisting the Indian military program freeing up India's stockpile of fissile material for military rather than civilian use."
Markey argued that "we now as a Congress and as a nation understand more fully what the ramifications are of a horizontal nuclear proliferation. So more the public and the Congress understand the ramifications of the decision, the more this issue is going to be very difficult for the Administration to move forward."
"So my strategy is to show how the world, the United States and India would be better off without the United States carrying out an exemption to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and how in the electrical generating sector where coal is going to be the vast majority of the regeneration for the whole of 21st century that with clean coal technology, alternative energy, with Ex-Im Bank loans that we can create an electricity generating future in India, which doesn't necessitate the destruction of the NPT."
Asked what the repercussions would be if President Bush fails to achieve an agreement during his visit to India and cannot nail down a separation deal, which Burns has been negotiating, Markey said, "I certainly hope that the White House and the State Department don't make further concessions to India just to get an agreement."
He said that if there is no deal on a separation agreement, the better route for the President to take would be to help India with alternative energy assistance instead of nuclear power, which he noted only generates about 2-3 percent of electricity compared to 65-70 percent from coal.
"So if the President doesn't pen a nuclear deal it will be fine," Markey said. "In fact, he's better off without one given the likely negative reaction in Congress, given the difficulty it will create in imposing a set of sanctions on Iran at the Security Council for violation of the NPT, and given the difficulty that he would have in telling President Musharraf in Pakistan that he doesn't qualify for the same deal."
Markey said that if there is no deal reached during Bush's visit to New Delhi it might end up "helping the President because he's already in enough trouble up on the Hill over the UAE (United Arab Emirates) deal. He doesn't need another political buzzsaw to complicate his life."
The President has "already argued that we should allow the Dubai Ports Company to control the operation of six American ports because otherwise we'll be sending mixed signals to the Arab world. But meanwhile, he appears not to care about the mixed signals he is sending to the rest of the world when he agrees to a loophole in the NPT for India."