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Less US support for 123 pact than Hyde Act

The release of the text of the 123 agreement coincided with much of the US Congress preparing to leave for their late summer recess, reports Pramit Pal Chaudhary.

world Updated: Aug 04, 2007 23:31 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhary

The release of the text of the 123 agreement coincided with much of the US Congress preparing to leave for their late summer recess.
While staffers expressed concerns that the Bush administration had conceded too much on reprocessing rights and nuclear fuel guarantees, most Washington observers feel the US Congress would eventually vote in favour of the 123 agreement.

However, the margin of victory could be smaller than occurred for the Hyde Act. "There is less support today for the deal than there was last November," said an Indian official.

Besides the obvious procedural prerequisites of an India-IAEA safeguards agreement and a yes vote from the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, two key obstacles could muddy a congressional okay for the 123:

1) The wild card that could trip up congressional support would be any sense that India is consolidating an economic or military relationship with Iran.
2) The nuclear deal’s traditional opponents, the nonproliferation lobby, will insist India got too much leeway in fuel guarantees and reprocessing rights.
3) The NSG vote remains uncertain, largely because of the China factor. However, some Indian-American lobbyists like Ramesh Kapur of the Indian-American Security Leadership, believe that if Beijing overplays its hand in the NSG, an angry "US Congress could vote in favour of the 123 without NSG approval."

Questions about India’s ties with Iran continue to cloud the minds of many US Congressional staffers. Despite repeated State Department explanations, many in Washington believe in a mythical Indo-Iranian military relationship. Says Teresita Schaffer, South Asia expert of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, "The staffers don’t like the deal — they didn’t like the Hyde Act either. The key will be to get to the elected members."

Part of the problem is that Congress tends not to look at the big picture and instead focuses on the week’s front page news – which is often Iran. The US corporate lobby believes Iran is the only issue that could sink the deal. The nonproliferation lobby was announced, is less of a worry.

US President George W Bush’s political decline makes Republican support more difficult to predict. Republican think tanks like the Heritage Foundation strongly believed the contentious "right of return" clause be part of the 123 agreement. Kapur says, "If we had a vote today, we might see less Republicans ayes and more Democratic support."