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US rejects 'alternate' N-deal bill
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | May 17, 2006 16:48 IST
The Bush administration will ask United States Congressman Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, to hold off on his compromise legislation in place of the administration's bill on the India-US civilian nuclear agreement.
Instead, rediff India Abroad has learnt, the administration will urge Lantos to push for the deal to be voted out of Committee so that it could kick off a process on the House floor, where it can be debated and put to a final vote.
The administration's legislation proposes to amend the Atomic Energy Act with an India-specific exemption to facilitate the implementation of the India-US nuclear deal.
Lantos, who strongly supports the administration's legislation (HR 4974), offered his compromise legislation on May 11, saying that 'many of our colleagues in the Congress support the administration's legislative proposal, while many others are opposed.'
With 'so few days left this year in our very crowded legislative calendar, there is no time to develop the consensus necessary to move this legislation forward in the face of these polarised views,' Lantos said.
Instead of the legislative amendments to the AEA that the administration has sought, his version calls for a vote on the accord only after India's negotiations with the IAEA are complete and the required safeguards have been finalised.
It would also would put the agreement on a 'fast track' as used for trade agreements, so that Congressional amendments will not undo the deal when it is considered, and would only be subject to an straightforward up or down vote in both the House and Senate.
Under Secretary of State R Nicholas Burns, the chief US interlocutor in the negotiation of the deal, refused to provide the administration's reaction to Lantos' compromise legislation.
During the question and answer session that followed his keynote address on US-India relations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, Burns said he would meet with Lantos on Wednesday, 'and it would be inappropriate for me to give a detailed public exposition of our views on his legislation before we've had the courtesy of giving him the views privately.'
But 'we had always foreseen the need for two steps in this process. When the administration talked to the senior members of the House and Senate some months ago, we all agreed that there had to be at the conclusion of the hearings, an action by the Congress at the beginning of the process, which we hope would be Congressional support, and then there had to be action at the end when the US-India civil nuclear agreement -- the so-called 123 Agreement -- was presented by the President to the Congress for a vote on that.'
'We had always foreseen a beginning and an end to the process. And now Congressman Lantos and others have given us some new ideas and we are simply going to have a good discussion with him about this in a supportive way -- because he is a supporter of the administration.'
'We are very grateful for the support that Congressman Lantos has given this agreement. He has been an advocate of this agreement since July 18, 2005. He's been enormously helpful to our administration and both Secretary (of State Condoleezza) Rice and I have talked to him frequently throughout this process and I am going to speak with him tomorrow.'
But 'we still believe that Congress should look at the agreement that we put before the Congress, and we hope that there can be an early vote,' he added.
Despite the contention that the 123 Agreement was in limbo and hence there was no action by Congress, Burns denied that this bilateral accord has hit a roadblock.
'The 123 Agreement is a reflection of all the decisions that we've already made in the July 18 Joint Statement and the March 2 agreement between our two governments that was announced when the President was there.'
Burns noted that 'we've already tackled and wrestled with and agreed upon the major substantive issue, (and) the bilateral agreement will be a reflection of that -- in the sense there is no new ground to be broken or negotiated, and we certainly don't intend to renegotiate any of these issues. God forbid we have to renegotiate these issues that took more than a year to negotiate.'
The administration was not particularly worried about the 123 Agreement 'because the substance has already been negotiated,' he said.
Burns disclosed that he had spoken on the phone with Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran on Tuesday 'and we talked about all aspects of this, and we agreed to meet next week in London to go over all aspects of the US-India agreement so that we can move this along on both sides.'
'We have great faith that the Indian government will meet its commitments, and I know that -- and I reaffirmed again today (to Saran) -- that the United States intends to meet its agreement to the Indian government.'
When pressed on whether India has specifically agreed to include the testing moratorium in the 123 Agreement, Burns said, 'I don't think it will be appropriate for me to get into the specifics of the 123 Agreement when it's now under private discussions between the two governments. The Indian government has not done that and we have not done that.'
But he asserted that it's 'suffice to say what Secretary Rice said in her Congressional testimony' before the Senate Foreign Relations and House International Relations Committees, that 'we take very seriously and we value the importance of the commitment that India has given to us on the moratorium of nuclear testing.'
Commenting on Lantos's compromise legislation, Ashley Tellis, a senior associate with the CEIP who was co-opted by the administration during the final month of the negotiations with India to assist Burns, told rediff India Abroad that "his intentions are good but it will have the effect of complicating the process."
He said he had told Lantos that "my view is that I would feel much more comfortable with our legislative options as an instrument of last resort. But we haven't seen the process play itself out in Committee. Let's go through the established process. We've finished the hearings. Now let the Committee vote it out of Committee and take it to the floor and if—at that point—you think there is really a crisis, you can always look for plan B."
"We have a road-map to do this," Tellis said. "Both sides have to stick to it and then we'll get to where we want this to go."