On the eve of the Senate vote on the India-US nuclear deal, the Washington Post suggested that Capitol Hill was yet to get a secret intelligence assessment of India's nuclear programme and New Delhi's ties to Tehran.
Citing Congressional and intelligence sources, the influential daily on Wednesday suggested that when the House voted in favour of a companion bill on the India deal, lawmakers did not know of Bush administration's plans to sanction two Indian firms for selling missile parts to Iran - "a fact that seemed to undercut administration assurances that India's non-proliferation record is excellent."
Democrats, it claimed, later accused the administration of deception. It cited unnamed Senate and House staff members as saying that they are concerned that the White House is still pushing for congressional approval of the India deal without providing needed information, such as the intelligence report.
In a January 23 letter to John D Negroponte, director of national intelligence, Republican chairmen and ranking Democrats on the House and Senate foreign relations panels asked for "an interagency assessment" of India's nuclear programme, its record of proliferation and its ties to Iran, it said.
The letter was signed by Republicans Henry J Hyde and Richard G Lugar and Democrats Tom Lantos and Joseph R Biden - all of whom have been generally supportive of the India deal but have raised concerns about the proliferation implications and about India's relations with Iran, the Post said.
The four asked Negroponte to assess how India is implementing its non-proliferation commitments, the adequacy of its export controls and the movement into and out of India of materials to make weapons of mass destruction.
The letter asked the intelligence community to gauge the extent to which the deal "may enhance India's ability to produce fissile material for weapons." The senators also asked for a full assessment of India's positions on Iran.
In a Febuary 9 response to the letter, Negroponte wrote: "We look forward to providing the necessary information in the near future," according to The Washington Post which said copies of both letters were read to it. Negroponte's office, it said, declined comment on the letters or the status of the assessment.
The daily quoted "several congressional sources" as saying that the National Intelligence Council provided two oral briefings, in March and April, that focused on the history of US-India relations as well as the beginnings of India's nuclear programme, but that the briefings did not address the specific information requested in the letter.
"We expect a written intelligence product," one Republican said. Four other staff members - two Democrats and two Republicans - also said that they expected a complete intelligence assessment that responds point by point to the issues raised in the letter, the Post reported adding "All spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing that public comment would put their congressional jobs at risk."
The paper also cited a report of Congressional Research Service, which provides background information to Congress, to suggest that "India's long relationship with Iran" made it unlikely that India would take a hard line on Tehran.
"India does not support nuclear weapons for Iran, but "its views of the Iranian threat and appropriate responses differ significantly from US views."
The report also found that entities in India and Iran "appear to have engaged in very limited nuclear, chemical and missile related transfers over the years.