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Berman opposes rushed ratification of N-deal in Congress

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | September 08, 2008 12:13 IST

Congressman Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who has been opposed to the US-India civilian nuclear deal from the outset, apparently has no intention of letting the accord be approved by the US Congress--now that the Nuclear Suppliers Group has granted a waiver to India--without a fight.

Berman, a California Democrat,in a statement released Sunday from his home office of Van Nuys said that while he supports "cooperation on civilian nuclear energy with India, I opposed policies that would lead to a nuclear arms race of undermine proliferation standards." Thus, he argued, "Before we vote, Congress needs to study the NSG decision, along with any agreements that were made behind the scenes to bring it about."

Administration and diplomatic sources are convinced that Berman conspired with the non-proliferation lobby in the US to scuttle the NSG waiver to India by deliberately releasing the correspondence between the State Department and Lantos on the eve of the NSG meeting.

Berman served notice that "if the Administration wants to seek special procedures to speed up  Congressional consideration, it will have to show how the NSG decision is consistent with the Hyde Act as Secretary (of State Condoleezza) Rice promised, including which technologies can be sent to India and what impact a nuclear test by India would have. The burden of proof is on the Bush Administration so that Congress can be assured that what we're being asked to approve conforms with US law."

Earlier, in an interview with The New York Times, immediately on the news of the NSG granting a waiver to India, Berman had said he would not consider any expedited timetable for considering the agreement until the Bush Administration provides him with more information about the negotiations in Vienna [Images].

Berman said that he wants to check that the Bush Administration "did not cut any side deals with the NSG member countries to get their votes."

Berman told the Times that he wants to ensure, for instance, that the United States "did not say any countries could sell nuclear technology to India that the United States is currently prohibited from selling."

Ultimately, he said, the burden was on the White House to convince Congress that the nuclear pact needed to be authorized in a 'rushed fashion.'"

Rice, on Saturday, in remarks made to the media traveling with her on a trip to North Africa that took her to Libya, Morocco, and Algeria, predicted that it was highly unlikely that India would test again and jeopardize the exemption granted it by the NSG.

"India has a lot at stake in this agreement, and I don't think that the Indians would have sought this agreement if they did not see that their principal goal now is to seek peaceful uses of nuclear material to be able to build civil nuclear faclities, and to do that with the best technology from around the world," she said.

Rice also said that while the administration would now push for the US Congress to ratify the deal before it adjourns for the year in the session that runs September 8 through September 26, the US would endeavor to make sure that if Congress does not approve the accord this year, India would not disadvantage American companies that had also lobbied feverishly for the consummation of the deal in view of the more than $100 billion in business opportunities that could accrue once India was granted the NSG waiver.

"We have talked to the Indian government about not disadvantaging American companies and I think they recognize and appreciate American leadership on this issue," she said. "But obviously the best thing would be to get it through Congress."

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