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Defeated N-deal amendments were not wrong: Congressman
Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC | June 29, 2006 03:23 IST
Congressman Howard Berman, California Democrat and a senior member of the House International Relations Committee, says just because his amendments -- described as 'killer amendments' requiring India to halt fissile material production for the development of nuclear weapons were defeated overwhelmingly at the committee mark-up of legislation to facilitate the US-India nuclear deal, 'it doesn't mean they are wrong'. In an interview with rediff.com, Berman, who, whoever, ultimately voted in favor of the legislation authored by the chairman of the Committee, Republican Henry Hyde of Illinois and the ranking Democrat Tom Lantos of California, which was reported out for floor action by a margin of 37-5 predicted, "This is an issue that is going to come up over and over again, until the bill is dealt with."
He said, "I am still hoping that there will be summary assessment during the negotiations on the agreement (the bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation agreement known as the 123 Agreement), because I expect the legislation to pass and I expect the parties to negotiate an agreement and I would hope that this issue of fissile material production would stay on our agenda."
Berman, a founding member of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, said his vote in favor of the legislation despite the defeat of his amendments proved that he was strongly in favor of the US-India strategic partnership and was not opposed to a US-India civilian nuclear agreement as long as this did not help in any way to enhance India's nuclear weapons program. He added that it was possible that he may bring it up again during the floor debate but said unlike in the Senate, where Senators like Byron Dorgan, have warned that they would filibuster the legislation, no such maneuver was permitted in the House. "Unfotunately,only the Senate has the honor of filibustering. The House doesn't permit filibustering," he said.He acknowledged that the Hyde/Lantos bill, which though based on the Administration legislation included changes from the original proposal, most importantly Congressional oversight, 'is much better than it started out to be and I'll have to judge the whole thing as a total'. He said this is what he did that finally led to his vote in favor of it. But he reiterated - "I'm disappointed at not achieving a prohibition on continued production of fissile material, by India. All the nuclear states are now observing such a halt on production and I believe India can achieve what it needs for its security purposes, without continuing the produce fissile material. But that's my opinion; that isn't the Indian opinion." Berman asserted that as he had said during the debate on his amendments, they had 'never been meant or intended to force India to disarm', but simply to urge India to 'assume an important practice and really become a part of the nuclear weapons state mainstream and make the agreement a net plus for nonproliferation' since all of the other nuclear weapons states have assumed such a position.
Meanwhile, in interviews with rediff.com, the immediate past co-chairs of the India Caucus, Republican Joe Wilson of South Carolina and Democrat Joe Crowley of New York, said the yes votes on the legislation by Berman and Congressman Brad Sherman, also a California Democrat, who strongly supported Berman's amendments and also introduced similar amendment 'that were also shot down' showed the broader support the US-India strategic partnership had in Congress even among those concerned over the nuclear deal.Wilson said, "I was thrilled, by the overwhelming margin at the mark-up, because this really does represent a warm relationship between India and the United States, and it really turned around, because initially there was a great deal of skepticism, and, anytime, you mention the word 'nuclear', anytime you mention the concept of nonproliferation, people are rightfully concerned." "But it was really to the credit of Prime Minister Singh and the President that they working together have really convinced an overwhelming majority, as you know the vote was 37-5 and there were actually people who were outside the door and if they had been inside it would have been 40-5," he added. Wilson acknowledged that the margin was 'much better than expected and it really did reflect on something I knew would be important, and that is that the Indian American community is very well respected and by contacting their members of Congress and that was the first advise that I gave, that Indian Americans needed to meet with their members of Congress and express how supportive they were; this was the result of their efforts'. He said the fact that Berman and Sherman also voted for it 'was such a positive sign and there couldn't have been a better sign than this to show the support we have here for the US-India relationship'. Wilson agreed that if even one of either Berman or Sherman's amendments had been adopted, 'it definitely would have killed the agreement because it was really an intrusion, in my view, on the sovereignty of India. There's a fine balance here of how we work out treaties and the balance should be that we should be mutually respectful and this is mutually beneficial'. Crowley, while also acknowledging that the margin in favor was better than expected, said, he was not surprised, 'because I know how hard this has been worked on both sides of the aisle and how people are approaching this in a bipartisan spirit'. "This is about America's interest as we move forward and the geo-political re-alignment and I think to have this overwhelming vote speaks well for what I believe will also be a similar passage in the House and Senate floors," he added. Crowley too said the fact that Berman and Sherman, who introduced 'killer amendments' finally turned around and voted for the bill in the final analysis, says 'they understand that this is not a perfect deal but one which at the end of the day is in the interests our government, not to set back our relations between our two nations'. He also said the fact that the Democrats led the charge in many respects in opposition to the 'killer amendments' shows how much of a bipartisan effort it was'. "But as Howard (Berman) has said repeatedly, he is in favor of the concept of this agreement and I think by his voting for it he recognized the value in advancing our two nations relations," Crowley added.