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Law on N-deal not before Easter: US Senator
Aziz Haniffa in Washington,DC | March 14, 2006 10:26 IST
Last Updated: March 14, 2006 12:23 IST
Notwithstanding the Bush administration and the Government of India's expectation that there will legislation offered this week in the Congress to help push through the US-India civilian nuclear agreement, Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has indicated that he did not see any measure in the Senate in this regard till after the Easter recess in April.
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The administration, which last week submitted a draft proposal calling for the amending of the Atomic Energy Act in order to engage in civilian nuclear trade with India, is keen to have legislation introduced by Congress as soon as possible and approved before the Nuclear Suppliers Group meets in May so that it can seek consensus from the NSG on the strength of Congressional approval to consummate the deal with India.
In a brief interview with rediff India Abroad, after he launched the Brookings Institution's 90th anniversary Leadership Forum, Lugar, a fierce nonproliferation advocate, noted that hearings on India's civil-military separation plan negotiated by Washington and New Delhi, and inked during President Bush's visit to India March 1-3, would precede any legislation.
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The Indiana Republican acknowledged that the Administration's expectations that the Senate could be expected to introduce legislation almost immediately it had submitted its draft proposal was being overly optimistic.
"We will not take any action in Committee or the Congress this week," he asserted, adding that hearings will precede any legislation, and that they will occur after recess.
"They've not been established yet but they will happen as all the preparations of the administration are complete," he said.
Lugar was circumspect when asked if he would introduce the legislation - as the administration hopes he would considering that he not only chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but whose support for the deal, if forthcoming, could impact favorably on the approval of the measure.
"Well, I may. I will be chairing the hearings in the Senate - at least that will try to formulate a bill," he said, acknowledging, "Some of my colleagues may have amendments. They may have other suggestions."
Earlier in the day, House International Relations Committee chairman Henry Hyde, Illinois Republican, issued a statement saying that hearings on the US-India nuclear deal will begin later in March, but warned that Congresss may attach conditions on the agreement for its approval.
The administration has warned that any such conditions tagged on to the deal as negotiated would be 'deal-breakers' and would result in India pulling out of the agreement.
"This is a complex agreement with profound implications for US and global interests. Congress will need to take a close look at its many provisions in order to come to an informed decision," Hyde said in the statement.
The lawmaker said he had met Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday to discuss the proposal, and along with the Committee's ranking member, Tom Lantos of California, agreed to introduced the agreement's enabling legislation at the request of the Bush administration, but noted the caveat that 'Congress may seek conditions for its approval.'
'The issues involved are complicated and technical, and it will take some time for Congress to absorb them as we move the agreement to fruition,' Lantos argued, adding however that, 'While endorsing the new strategic alliance between the world's oldest and largest democracies as a breakthrough, all members of the Congress will undoubtedly wish to see the details of the agreement before deciding how to vote.'
Lugar told India Abroad, "Secretary Rice did come to the Hill and she gave me in written form ideas as to specific legislation already passed by Congress - that is statutes, which are on books now that will needed to be amended if India and the United States were to go forward in this partnership."
He also said that the fact that India is not a signatory to the NPT also makes it 'a very important argument to wrestle with. That NPT is a very important set of circumstances and having devoted much time and energy on this, I don't take that lightly.'
'But I am also taking a look at the realities of the world that the India proposition offers and it seems to me a very important avenue. Now whether India is willing to invest this kind of money into nuclear energy and all that it requires, I don't know and that is what we will be asking (the Administration) how serious is this."
Reiterating that hearings would precede any legislation, that ultimately would envisage the 'revision of certain laws in the books,' Lugar emphasized that this was not going to be a new treaty with India. "It will not have all the provisions that finally come with that type of thing, but it would change policy. And, in the nonproliferation area, that is a serious issue," he said.