Democratic Congressman Howard Berman, who took over the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee from fellow Democrat Congressman Tom Lantos after his death on February 11, has extracted a pledge from the Bush administration that it will not support the deal in the India-United States civilian nuclear agreement unless it is consistent with the Hyde Act approved by Congress in 2006.
The nonproliferation lobby in the United States -- which is vehemently opposed to the India-US nuclear agreement -- is elated that one of their own has been elected as the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
However, Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, who has coordinated the anti-deal lobbying in the Congress, the NSG and the International Atomic Energy Agency, pointed out that the Bush administration's pledge will require a shift in policy. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has promised Berman that the US will "support NSG guidelines that are consistent with the minimal but vital conditions established by the Congress for US nuclear trade with India".
He acknowledged, "Such a step would be an overdue step in the right direction. At present, India is seeking an NSG exemption without conditions."
Kimball said, "The current draft US proposal at the NSG supports India's demand and, if adopted, would mean that other NSG states do not have to adhere to the same restrictions and conditions on nuclear trade with India that apply to the United States."
"We expect that Secretary Rice will remain faithful to her pledge to Congress and adjust the US approach at the NSG so that other states' terms of trade with India must meet the same standards established in US law and policy."
Kimball further said, "In response to Rice's comments, we expect the member states of the NSG to insist that any decision to modify their rules on nuclear trade with India should explicitly prohibit the transfer of sensitive uranium enrichment, plutonium reprocessing, or heavy water production equipment of technology."
"NSG states should also stipulate that any exemption from NSG trade guidelines that might be granted to India would be revoked if that nation resumes nuclear testing," he added.
Kimball warned, "If the administration fails to support an NSG policy with the conditions established in the Hyde Act, other less constrained suppliers such as Russia [Images] and France [Images] will gain commercial advantage and undermine US non-proliferation objectives."
He told rediff.com, "Frankly, I think the US position is in flux and the Bush administration simply has not been asked until now what it intends to do."
Kimball said that evidently the administration "doesn't want to advertise that it might pursue anything but a clean exemption," but referred to US Ambassador to India David Mulford's recent comments that "the US might have to support some conditions and restrictions."
He said that it is important to note that "what we are saying is that Rice's statement requires a shift in the administration's NSG policy and I would argue she pledge to do so, but it has not happened yet."
Rice, testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the administration's International Affairs Budget request for fiscal year 2009, which begins October 1, assured Berman, "We will support nothing with India in the NSG that is in contradiction to the Hyde Act."
"It will have to be completely consistent with the obligations of the Hyde Act," she said.
Rice acknowledged that "we will have to be consistent with the Hyde Act or I don't believe we can count on the Congress to make the next step," in consummating the deal.
Berman is an author of killer amendments, which he introduced when the enabling legislation was being debated upon on the House floor in 2006, and he has been an acerbic opponent of the deal. He informed Rice that the administration shouldn't forget that the Hyde Act "terminates US nuclear cooperation with India if New Delhi resumes nuclear testing."
He pointed out that it also "restricts the transfer of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technologies," if India resumes nuclear weapons testing.
Berman said that he was "concerned about the NSG," because "as I understand it, the US representative to that body has circulated a clean exemption for India that does not reflect any of the restrictions contained in the Hyde Act."
He said, "If that exemption were adopted by the NSG, we would essentially be creating two standards to nuclear trade for India, one for the United States and one for the rest of the world."
Last October, Berman, along with the Ranking Republican on the Committee, Congressman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, introduced a resolution that called on the President only to pursue changes to NSG guidelines that are consistent with the restrictions and conditions established in the Hyde Act.
The Leftist parties that are part of the Manmohan Singh [Images] coalition government and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party have opposed the deal because they argue the Hyde Act takes away India's sovereignty and precludes India from testing.