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Legislation on Indo-US nuclear deal to go to Congress soon
Aziz Haniffa in Washington | March 10, 2006 10:53 IST
Ambassador Richard Boucher, the new Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, who traveled with President Bush to India, expects that legislation will be introduced soon in Congress in order to proceed with the US-India civilian nuclear agreement reached by the President and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on March 2.
In a roundtable with a small group of South Asian correspondents, Boucher, who holds the record of being the State Department spokesman through three successive administrations — both Democrat and Republican —s aid, "I expect that you'll see legislation soon and then it will go through the normal legislative process of discussion and possibly hearings. We'll try to move it as quickly as we can, along with some friends on the Hill."
He acknowledged, "There will be debate and discussion — that's what we do in democracries — but we'll do everything possible, and certainly the President and Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, will do everything possible to see that this agreement passes the Congress and that we get it through the international groups that we want to work with as well.
"We are talking to members of Congress about how it gets submitted, when it gets submitted, but I think it will happen fairly soon," he said.
"We are hearing from members that they want to take this up and they want to take it up quickly. They understand the importance of it," he added. "But I haven't heard a time-table from them, nor could I predict what it might be."
Boucher has been accompanying the key US interlocutor of the deal, Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and Robert Joseph, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, to meetings with the Congressional leadership and their staff to discuss the legislation to be introduced and the importance of the consummation of this agreement for the envisaged US-India strategic partnership.
He said, "I would say that so far, we have talked to a lot of people who are very supportive."
"They understand that this agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation is an important part of working with India across the board on a 21st century relationship. A lot of what the President talked about in India — what he announced — had to do with new technology and applying new technology to cooperation and development in India," he said. "This is an aspect of that — a very important aspect of that."
Boucher disclosed that "there is appreciation of that. Where India fits in the big picture, from members of Congress."
"Second of all," he added, "There is an appreciation of the fact that it's a net plus for nonproliferation, that at a time when we see so many other countries violating their obligations, we see India taking on new obligations and going from a situation where only a few reactors are under safeguards to where more and more will be under safeguards."
Boucher said there is also an appreciation among lawmakers that "this is a way of helping India develop in terms of its energy needs, about America cooperating with India to meet India's energy needs, both through commercial opportunities as well as the grander opportunities."
"So there is a lot of appreciation there," he reiterated, but acknowledged that "there are certainly questions. What does this mean for proliferating countries? And, I think I've tried to answer that by saying that it's an important example where countries can take on new obligations and support the international regime."
Boucher also acknowledged: "I am sure there will be questions about the separation plan — about how thoroughly it provides a safeguarded sector. We think it does a good job of that. So we'll be talking about that on the Hill as well."