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Bush promises Indo-US nuke deal by month-end

The assurance follows reports that an internal US congressional dispute could affect the bills, writes Manoj Joshi.

india Updated: Sep 15, 2006 01:38 IST

The Bush administration has assured the Indian government that the US Senate will pass the legislation on the Indo-US nuclear deal this month, probably by the third week of September. A senior Indian official accompanying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his official tour to Brazil and Cuba said this in the context of reports that an internal US congressional dispute could upset the tight legislative timetable for the bills that would enable the nuclear deal. 

According to the official, the two sides were hoping to fast-track the entire process by beginning negotiations on the so-called 123 Agreement which will operationalise the legislation this month, even before it gets the final approval by Congress and is signed into law by President George W. Bush.

Indian officials said the legislative wrangle was not related to India. It was an internal issue dividing the Republican party.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Richard Lugar and his co-chair Senator Joe Biden have tagged on an unrelated bit of legislation to the nuclear deal bill. This so-called Title II bill is enabling legislation for the IAEA’s new and tough Additional Protocol. This was ratified by the Senate in 2004, but the Congress has not passed the implementing  legislation to allow the treaty to go into effect. Lugar and Biden hope that by combining the two bills, it will get Congress to approve both.

This Additional Protocol should not be confused by an Indian commitment to arrive at an India-specific protocol with the IAEA which will allow the international agency to monitor the new Indo-US agreement which contains the unique element—India’s semi-legal status as a state with nuclear weapons, as well as with a civil nuclear programme policed by the IAEA.

Since the Title II is about the US and its relationship to the IAEA, India is unconcerned about the issue. But a difficulty has now arisen because two conservative Republican Senators John Kyl and Eric Ensign say they do not support the Title II bill and will, therefore, oppose the combined bills.

This has put the legislative schedule for the nuclear deal – a Senate vote this month, reconciliation of the House and Senate bills in the fortnight after and Bush signing the final bill in mid-October – under question. Bemused Indian officials can only cross their fingers and wait.