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Senate, House will introduce identical bills on N-deal: Burns
Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC | March 16, 2006 09:22 IST
Last Updated: March 16, 2006 19:08 IST
Ambassador Nicholas Burns has disclosed that both the chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House International Relations Committee would introduce identical bills on the Indo-US nuke deal on Thursday.
Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and the chief interlocutor in the negotiations with India and the Bush administration's point man to push through the US-India civilian nuclear agreement in Congress, disclosed that the chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House International Relations Committee would introduce bills based on the administration's draft proposal delivered last week by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The draft seeked a waiver for India from the requirements of the Atomic Energy Act that currently bars nuclear technology and dual-use items trade with countries that do not accept full-scope safeguards on its nuclear facilities.
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In an exclusive sit-down interview in his expansive and well-appointed office in the State Department, Burns, said the bills introduce by Senator Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican, who chairs the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Congressman Henry Hyde, Illinois Republican, who heads up the House International Relations Committee, is expected by the Administration to help shape the final legislation that would envisage the passage of the US-India agreement that has to be approved by the Congress if the deal is to be consummated.
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Asked if there had been any changes made to the draft proposal submitted to Rice by either Lugar or Hyde, Burns said on Wednesday, "I haven't checked to know if there are any changes," but noted that during several meetings with the two lawmakers and their staffs "...they've agreed it should be a waiver to the Atomic Energy Act of 1954."
He said the bills would also contain another component of the draft proposal submitted by the administration that calls for a nuclear cooperation agreement with India.
Informed that Lugar in an interview with Rediff India Abroad on Monday had said he doesn't expect any legislation till after Easter at the earliest, and that any legislation would be preceded by hearings, Burns clarified, "I think what he meant was the vote on the legislation."
Burns, who is scheduled to hold a special press briefing Thursday, after the introduction of the bills in the Senate and the House 'on the ongoing efforts to implement the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement,' said that once the bills were in the system, it would be followed, "...by a series of briefings and then some hearings - formal hearings - and then at some point after that, then the House and the Senate will decide this. Not us, they will. I assume seek to have it brought to a vote."
"But it may take a while. It's not going to be automatic. It's not going to be in the next couple of weeks," he added.
The administration would like to see the hearings completed and the legislation approved by Congress by end April so that it can go to the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting in Vienna in May armed with a duly endorsed bill by the US Congress to leverage the NSG to also approve the accord by consensus.
Burns, however, acknowledged that the introduction of the bills on Thursday would be in keeping with the Administration's schedule to "get something going immediately" since the Congress goes on recess next week, and when they reconvene, the bills could be taken up for consideration by the various committees, including those chaired by Lugar and Hyde, that have jurisdiction over such matters.
He acknowledged that although Lugar and Hyde had agreed to introduce the bills, it did not necessarily mean that they unambiguously agreed with it and supported it unequivocally. "It's up to them to decide how they are going to vote on this. But they've been kind to offer to introduced the legislation so we are pleased about it."
Congressional sources close to Lugar and Hyde told Rediff India Abroad that the lawmakers were doing this as a gesture to the President and at his request and in no way does it imply that they fully endorse it or its content.
Lugar himself told Rediff India Abroad on Monday that likely that he would introduce the bill, as he would be chairing the hearings in the Senate, "some of my colleagues may have amendments,they may have other suggestions."Burns said at this special press briefing on Thursday, after the introduction of the bills in Congress, besides explaining the draft proposal, "What I intend to do on Thursday is to review again the rationale for why the Bush Administration wants to go forward with India on this civil nuclear agreement and I will rebut some of the arguments that have been made against it, and talk about that and any other issue that are on your mind."