A statement by President George W Bush issued in connection with the just-signed US-India civil nuclear cooperation law has raised concerns that Bush may try to circumvent some of Congress' intentions, lawmakers and analysts say.
The statement, clarifying Bush's views on law and policy, was issued after he signed new legislation on Monday permitting US sales of nuclear fuel and reactors to India for the first time in 30 years.
In the statement, Bush said his signature "does not constitute my adoption of the statements of policy (in the law) as US foreign policy." Also in responding to reports mandated by Congress, he would consider how releasing data requested by lawmakers might "impair foreign relations."
In one of its most controversial directives, Congress stipulated in the law that presidents should report annually on India's cooperation in restraining Iran's nuclear programme, which Bush has condemned as a major international threat.
"With his recent signing statement, once again the president has shown he views Congress as a nuisance rather than an equal branch of government under the Constitution," said Sen. Thomas Harkin of Iowa, a Democrat whose party will control a majority of the new Congress to be sworn in next month.
It was "outrageous that the president has repeatedly stated the greatest threat to US national security is a nuclear Iran, yet explicitly rejects Congress' declaration that it shall be the official policy of the United States that India will not use its nuclear technology to help develop Iran's nuclear weapons arsenal," Harkin said in a press release.
'THUMBING HIS NOSE'
In the statement, Bush also said he considered as only "advisory" a congressional directive prohibiting nuclear transfers to India that conflict with guidelines of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which the United States helped establish years ago to restrain nuclear trade.
Democratic Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts said this shows Bush is "reserving the right to ignore the Nuclear Suppliers Group."
The president is "turning decades of US international policy on its head -- and thumbing his nose at Congress at the same time," added Markey, co-chair of the House of Representatives task force on non-proliferation.
Before US nuclear exports to India can begin, several other approvals are needed, including an NSG decision to change its rules prohibiting trade with India and passage of a second US law.
Some non-proliferation experts worry that if the United States is unable to win NSG approval -- which must be by unanimous consent -- Bush will let the trade with India go forward.
The White House and State Department rejected such interpretations of Bush's statement.
Asked if Bush might ignore the NSG, a State Department official said: "No, quite the opposite."
He said that while NSG guidelines are "political commitments," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "has been very clear that we're not going to do the (nuclear) deal without consensus in the NSG."
Meanwhile, a White House official said the statement's treatment of the NSG "is not regarding any particular intended course of foreign policy or with any particular practical effect in terms of intended treatment of material (nuclear) transfer."
Rather, the statement is intended to deal with the "domestic issue of government power rather than an issue of international nuclear policy," he said.
Justice Department lawyers were concerned the way the law is written meant that a change in NSG rules would force a change in US law, a US official said.