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Lantos fails to impress US state dept

However, he says his deal would be put on "fast track", once he meets Rice next week, writes S Rajagopalan.

india Updated: May 13, 2006 21:33 IST

Senior Democrat leader Tom Lantos' proposal for a compromise legislation on the nuclear deal has evoked only a lukewarm response from the Bush administration that believes it will cause further delays and create still more legislative hurdles.

The state department is confident the existing legislation, proposed by the administration and now being debated by key committees of both Houses of Congress, can win approval.

"Right now, our view is to handle this differently," state department counsellor Philip Zelikow said reacting to Lantos' proposal that the deal be put to vote only after a formal US-India agreement on civil nuclear cooperation and a safeguards pact with the International Atomic Energy Agency are submitted to the Congress.

"The objectives that Congressman Lantos is seeking, we think can be obtained in the framework of the existing legislation, without delaying action and creating still more legislative hurdles," Zelikow said during a discussion at the American Enterprise Institute.

Lantos, who plans to meet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice next week, claimed that his deal would put the deal on the "fast track". But analysts have pointed out that it might be quite a while before the two agreements Lantos wants submitted to Congress are negotiated and finalised. 

However, the nuclear deal may be up against further odds became clear at the House International Relations Committee hearing on Thursday when another senior Democrat from California, Howard Berman, served notice of a plan for his own bill listing specific amendments.

Curiously enough, Berman, like Lantos, is a member of the India Caucus. During his remarks, Berman took the stand that the deal negotiated by the Bush administration must be rejected in its present form as it "does nothing to limit India's production of fissile material for nuclear weapons".

Berman said his legislation would establish a set of conditions that a non-NPT country (like India) must meet to become eligible for civilian nuclear cooperation with the US.

While referring to Berman's legislative plan, House committee chairman Henry Hyde pointedly stated that "there may be others who plan to offer bills or amendments of their own. Let me stress that neither I nor the committee as a whole necessarily endorse any of these proposals..."

At the hearing, Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, urged the committee to reject the administration's "ill-conceived" legislative proposal that "undermines US national security interests and set a dangerous precedent".