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N-deal: US parries queries on Bush memorandum

Sridhar Krishnaswami in Washington | September 12, 2008 23:34 IST

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Indo-US Nuclear Tango

The US State Department on Friday parried questions on the controversy triggered in India by President George W Bush's [Images] memorandum to the Congress in which it was stated that nuclear fuel supply assurances to New Delhi [Images] were not legally binding.

"It's a letter from the president to the Congress. I'll refer you over to the White House for an answer," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"We've had good discussions with the Indian government on this matter, the 123 agreement, as well as a number of other issues. And we're going to be providing quite a bit of information there. We have to the US Congress. And there's going to be testimony during that process. I'll let that testimony and the information that we've provided the Congress speak for itself," McCormack maintained.

"If President Bush sends a letter, a cover letter on the deal, and says something, is that binding on the deal? Like, does it hold?" the spokesman was asked.

"It's all a matter of the public record," he replied.

Asked whether the reference to "sensitive technologies" in the president's letter referred to enrichment and reprocessing technologies, McCormack said, "Again, the cover letter speaks for itself. I'm not going to have anything to add to it."

Asked if the administration had a target date for ratification of the nuclear deal, he said, "We'd like it as soon as possible."

"I've heard a few different dates about when this session of Congress will adjourn. And I think, if you talk to the Hill, they'll talk about the end of September as being the date they're going to adjourn. We'd obviously like to move this forward as quickly as it possibly can," McCormack said.

The White House did not have any comments on the latest developments with Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto not addressing the issue aboard Air Force One taking President Bush to Oklahoma.

McCormack was also asked about the target adjournment date of September 26 and the 'Lame Duck' session, to which he answered that those questions were entirely for the leadership of the Congress to address.

"The administration would like to see, and is doing everything it possibly can, to get this agreement done this year," he said.

Senior officials of the State Department like McCormack have been reiterating all along that it is only Congress that can spell out how the 30-day waiting period for the nuclear deal is going to be addressed.

"The Congress is really going to be in the best position to talk about that," McCormack said referring to the waiting period for the deal on Capitol Hill.

"They can talk about their parliamentary rules and how they applied this particular piece of legislation. We're, of course, working with them every step on the way. They're pretty clear on our desire to move this legislation forward as quickly as possible. But, ultimately, it comes down to the leadership both in the House and the Senate as well as individual members and voting -- voting on a piece of legislation," he added.

The State Department also said the Indo-US nuclear deal was a topic of conversation between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice [Images] and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

"I'm not going to get into the details of it, but, of course, Russia [Images] is a member of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. They play an important role," the spokesman said.

"The IAEA played an important role in moving this agreement forward. And the secretary's message, basic message, was this agreement was good for India, good for the United States, good for the international (non-proliferation) regime," he said.

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