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US lawmakers urged to support N-deal in Congress

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | September 17, 2008 09:40 IST

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A bipartisan group of US lawmakers comprising erstwhile and current co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans have circulated a letter among their colleagues expressing their strong support for the US-India civilian nuclear agreement and included in their 'Dear Colleague' letter a copy of the September 12 Washington Post editorial titled 'Yes for an Answer: Why Congress should expedite approval of the US-India nuclear accord."

Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina, the current Republican co-chair of the India Caucus, along with Congressmen Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat, who was the founder and former co-chair of the caucus along with other erstwhile co-chairs such as Joe Crowley and Gary Ackerman, both New York Democrats and Ed Royce, California Republican, said, "As past and present co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans, we are asking you to support this agreement, which provides for peaceful nuclear cooperation between the two democracies."

"Passage of this measure in an expedient manner will be beneficial to both of our countries," they said.

"This historic agreement for our two nations has won approval from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group," and the deal "would enhance US-India economic relations, and assist the world's largest democracy to successfully meet growing energy needs," the lawmakers pointed out.

Thus, they called on Congress to act quickly "to ensure passage on this agreement before recessing."

The current Democratic co-chair of the India Caucus Congressman Jim McDermott of Washington state, however, was not a signatory to this letter. He had voted against the enabling legislation known as the Hyde Act in 2006 that was intended to facilitate the deal and has not indicated which way he will vote if the 123 Agreement is taken up by the Congress for an up or down vote before it adjourns for the year.

Meanwhile, Wilson also fired off a missive to Congressman Howard Berman, the California Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who is opposed to the deal, urging him to schedule a mark-up of the agreement.

Wilson wrote that with the recent unanimous passage by the NSG in support of the agreement and the previous approval by the IAEA, "the international community has now recognised that India is a responsible global partner and assisting India with its energy needs is a positive step for our two democracies."

"The agreement would provide for peaceful civil nuclear cooperation between our nations as well as members of the NSG," he added.

Wilson implored Berman to "consider including this historic agreement in the nest House Committee on Foreign Affairs mark-up so the full House will have an opportunity to vote on this measure before our scheduled adjournment. Passage of this measure is an expedient manner will be beneficial to both of our countries."

Berman while declaring that he supports "cooperation on civilian nuclear energy with India," however, has asserted that he opposes "policies that would lead to a nuclear arms race or undermine proliferations standards," and has said he has to be convinced that the 123 agreement is consistent with the Hyde Act, which calls on the US to immediately cut off nuclear cooperation and cease nuclear fuel supplies with India if it tests another nuclear weapon.

"Berman is certainly right to subject this major shift in US policy to a searching inquiry. But we hope that he will ultimately find a way to help move it through Congress before Sept. 26," The Post said. 

"The agreement has already been amply debated and discussed, and, on balance, it is in America's interest," it said.

"For all its flaws, the agreement would create more international supervision of India's nuclear fuel cycle than there would be without it," The Post argued.

It warned that "if Congress backs out now, the only victims will be American nuclear suppliers, who would have to stand aside while French and Russian companies expand India's nuclear power system."

Pointing out that the deal has already been endorsed by the US executive branch, the Indian government, the IAEA and the NSG, The Post said, "I would be strange, indeed, if a Congress controlled by Democrats, who usually favor diplomacy and multilateralism, were to scuttle the deal now."

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