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Nuclear club entry by year-end

india Updated: Jun 29, 2006 01:05 IST

US House Committee was main obstacle. Big win has paved way for deal implementation

THERE IS considerable satisfaction in New Delhi over the overwhelming vote of the International Relations Committee of the US House of Representatives in support of a legislation to enable the Indo-US nuclear cooperation agreement.

On Wednesday, a senior official said, "It's not just that the measure provides waiver authority (to the US president on prohibitions on nuclear cooperation in current US law), but that it does so in an unambiguous way." With this step the two sides have overcome the single most important obstacle confronting the agreement, he said.

The official acknowledged that "if there had been some unacceptable conditions attached (to the waiver authority), the agreement would not have flown". He said the entire process can now be expected to be completed by the end of the year. But he cautioned that there were still many outstanding issues that needed to be worked out.

He was emphatic on the need to ignore some controversial "expectations or exhortations" tagged on to the measure by individual committee members ranging from the need to solicit Indian cooperation to contain Iran, to asking it to join various technology restraint regimes. These, he said, did not bind India in any way, adding that "we can decry some of these elements, but what concerns us is the operative part".

The measure approved by the committee gives the US president authority to waive several key prohibitions in the US Atomic Energy Act. The law says nuclear cooperation can only be with a country that has all its reactors under full-scope safeguards; no licenses for nuclear material transfer can be issued to countries without such safeguards; no collaboration can be taken on with countries that have exploded a nuclear device or those engaged in the development and acquisition of such devices; and there can be no cooperation with a country that has reprocessing technology.

The waiver authority will be the basis for signing the 123 Agreement — the specific bilateral contract on nuclear cooperation.

The proposed bill has three more elements: first a set of determinations that the US president will have to make on a one-time basis before the agreement becomes operational. All of them are within the ambit of commitments India made in the July 18, 2005 agreement -- like India's separation plan, conclusion of a safeguards agreement and an additional protocol with the IAEA, working with the US on the fissile material cut off treaty and the moratorium on nuclear tests.

The third element requires the US president to make submissions on India's nuclear activities to the US Congress. The official said, "These are an internal matter between the US legislature and executive and require no undertaking or commitment to provide information on India's part."

The fourth element are the exhortations, which officials were at pains to point out, were similar to those requiring Beijing to improve its human rights record in the law that was passed enabling trade between the US and China. The official said after the bill became law, the two countries would work out the 123 Agreement.