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US Congress panel finalises nuclear bill
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | June 26, 2006 16:59 IST
The United States House of Representatives' International Relations Committee has finalised legislation to exempt India from certain requirements of the US Atomic Energy Act of 1954 as part of the civilian nuclear agreement between the two nations.
The legislation will be introduced in the Committee on Tuesday, June 27.
Congressional sources predict it will win a majority of votes in the Committee and will be submitted to the full House of Representatives when it reconvenes from its July 4 (the US Independence Day) holiday recess on July 11.
The legislation was finalised by US Congressman Henry Hyde, a Republican from Illinois, and US Congressman Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California. Hyde is the chairman of the House International Relations Committee.
Titled 'the United States and India Nuclear Cooperation Promotion Act of 2006,' it is essentially a variation of the legislation suggested nearly two months ago by Lantos, but not introduced then at the urging of the Bush administration which believed it could push through its own proposed legislation.
However, it soon became obvious that -- as Lantos had predicted -- that US legislators were not going to support the Bush administration's legislation considering the civilian nuclear cooperation agreement -- also known as the 123 Agreement-- and the safeguards agreement between New Delhi and the International Atomic Energy Agency are yet to be completed and the US Congress informed of its contents.
"This bill is kind of reasserting (the US) Congress into the process, which the administration's proposed legislation had not," one Congressional source told Rediff India Abroad.
"It is indeed Mr Lantos' bill with some changes suggested by Mr Hyde -- which the administration can live with because there are no 'dealbreakers' in it like conditioning India to halt its fissile missile production," said another source.
The sources said the bill "basically divides the original legislation that had been submitted by the administration into two parts -- a Sense of Congress, where Congress supports in general the agreement, plus some conditions for approval of the deal. Then will come a second piece of legislation which after these conditions are met would be voted on."
The legislation would authorise the President to exempt the US-India agreement from statutory full-scope safeguards, to waive statutory prohibitions on nuclear exports because of India's nuclear weapons tests and its ongoing nuclear weapons programmes, and to waive annual reviews of nuclear exports as long as India does not test its nuclear weapons and complies with its future IAEA safeguards agreements.
Before President George W Bush can exercise this authority, he will have to submit to the US Congress a determination that 'India has submitted a credible civil-military nuclear separation plan, that an IAEA-India safeguards agreement has been concluded, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group has amended its guidelines to allow nuclear exports.'
'Because of the interplay between Congress and the administration, this is a stronger bill because Congress has been able to add its own views. I think the bill is strengthened because of that,' Nicholas Burns, the US under secretary of state for political affairs who is the administration's point man for pushing the deal through the US Congress, said last week.
'We are optimistic that this legislation can now go forward, and we have an opportunity to have bipartisan victory for the American people,' he added.
However, Burns said, 'we have always said we wouldn't support dealbreakers -- requirements and amendments that would force us to go back and renegotiate this agreement' (with the Indian government).'
Last week, US Congressman Howard Berman of California and the second-most senior Democrat on the International Relations Committee introduced legislation that included some dealbreakers like requiring India to halt its fissile material production.
While Hyde, as the Committee's chairman, will finally decide 'what the bill is,' Berman warned that if Hyde's bill 'doesn't address some of my key concerns, I am planning to offer some amendments.'
Meanwhile, Senator Richard Lugar, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Joe Biden, the senior-most Democrat on the Committee, are yet to nail down their bill for their Committee's scrutiny on June 28.
Sources said it was likely to be a clone of the Hyde/Lantos bill since the administration has been consulting with Lugar and Biden and their staff and had essentially agreed on a similar track in both Houses of the US Congress.