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US Congress fires first salvo against 123 Agreement
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | October 05, 2007 11:47 IST
On the eve of International Atomic Energy Agency's Director-General Mohammed El Baradei's visit to India next week, three influential US lawmakers have called called on the Bush Administration to eliminate any ambiguity over the United States-India civilian nuclear agreement before it goes to bat for New Delhi at the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
All the three lawmakers are members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Raising concerns that the 123 Agreement between Washington and New Delhi, made public on August 3, does not adhere to the letter and spirit of the enabling Hyde Amendment approved overwhelmingly by the House and the Senate and signed into law last December by President Bush, Representatives Howard Berman, California Democrat, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida [Images] Republican, and Jeff Fortenberry, Nebraska Republican, introduced legislation late on Thursday, saying "it remains to be determined if the nuclear cooperation agreement is fully consistent with the Hyde Act."
The legislation, although non-binding, said the Administration should clarify all conflicts of interpretation regarding the nuclear cooperation agreement prior to seeking an exemption for India in Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines.
It also warned that an unqualified exemption for India would create a strong incentive for India to negotiate nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries with less stringent conditions than those contained in the agreement negotiated between India and the United States, thereby undermining the United States nonproliferation policy and US commercial interests.
The legislation also called for an immediate termination of all nuclear commerce by Nuclear Supplier Group member states if India detonates a nuclear explosive device or if the IAEA has determined that India violated its international safeguards commitments.
While the Hyde Act has mentioned such a cut-off in nuclear trade with India if it conducts another test, this has not been explicitly spelled out in the 123 Agreement, and Indian government officials have said that the 123 supersedes the Hyde Act, although senior Administration officials have remained circumspect.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, who has been coordinating a coalition of nonproliferation groups against the US-India nuclear deal, told rediff.com that the legislation by these lawmakers clearly "underscores that many members of Congress, who voted for final passage of the Hyde Act, are not pleased with the 'flawed' 123 Agreement and understand that it does not conform with the intent of Congress and contains a number of unprecedented concessions that have not been incorporated in other 123 agreements with other US allies."
Thus, he argued that the legislation "is a clear sign that it is unlikely that Congress will quickly or easily approve the 123 in its current form, even if the Nuclear Suppliers Group exempts India from its full-scope safeguards condition of supply standard and even if the IAEA board of governors approves a yet to be negotiated safeguards agreement covering nuclear exports and designated 'civilian' reactors to India."