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Home > News > Report

N-deal: US Congress may not address India's concerns

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | December 04, 2006 09:35 IST

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No dilution of language in the House and Senate bills is likely during the House-Senate conference that will meet on the United States-India civilian nuclear agreement when Congress reconvenes this week.

While the conference may not address all of India's concerns, there could be some change in the language regarding the required Presidential certifications, senior Congressional sources told rediff India Abroad.

When Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs and the chief US negotiator of the deal, visits New Delhi after the conference committee completes its work, he will ask India to try and live with the conference committee legislation because that is evidently the closest both countries can get in terms of a near-perfect bill that addresses the concerns of both India and US non-proliferation commitments.

This message was spelled out by Senator Joseph Biden -- who helped shepherd the bill through the Senate November 16 with a 85-12 vote in its favor. 

Biden told rediff India Abroad, "it's not only the best we've got, I think it's good."

The Senator said there was nothing in that legislation that should cause India to have any concern about the ratifications.

Burns will meet India's Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon for the first time during  his  visit. He will also meet with Menon's predecessor, Shyam Saran, with whom he worked closely on the deal. Both men will try to complete work on the bilateral civilian cooperation agreement.

After the Senate vote Burns said he believed it conformed to the agreement negotiated with India and that he was thankful the Senate and House had passed it.

He expressed confidence that the House-Senate conference would address some outstanding concerns, revise some language.

'The conference will iron out any remaining issues. These are issues that we believe can be resolved,' he has said.

India cautiously welcomed the Senate's overwhelming approval of the bill, but said it will await the final version of the bill after it emerges from conference before drawing any conclusions.

Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi -- whose party heads the United Progressive Alliance government -- has said India would not accept anything beyond the parameters of the agreement reached between President George W Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh July 18, 2005.

Burns acknowledged that 'there are some amendments from both the House and Senate bills that the Indian government would like to see modified. I am sure we will have a chance to sit down with the conferees in the House and Senate and suggest perhaps some subtle revisions to the language to take account of some of these concerns.'

Congressional sources told rediff India Abroad that while the driving forces of the legislation like Biden in the Senate and Tom Lantos in the House would not allow anyone in conference to add to what has already passed by both Houses of the US Congress, any attempts to dilute the Presidential certifications could jeopardise a positive conference bill and cause the legislation to unravel.

The sources said Burns would try to convince his Indian interlocutors not to reject whatever comes out of conference, because there is a long way to go before Congress gave the deal the green light once both sides agreed to it.

Even as the agreement is being nailed down, Burns said India must get the Nuclear Suppliers Group to remove the international restrictions in place now that the United States is removing national restrictions and backing the dismantling of international ones.

Burns said he is confident the NSG will agree to provide that relief to India.

Once the civil nuclear agreement is codified, he said the administration would look for a strong bipartisan vote in its favor.

Going by the "size of the vote in the Senate" Burns said it was likely the second and final vote by Congress would also be positive.

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