A US Congressional leader has come out against a clean exemption for India from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, has urged the US administration to ensure that the NSG waiver includes a provision cutting off nuclear trade if India conducts a test.
If such a condition was not imposed, Congressional support for the US-India civilian nuclear deal would be jeopardised, Berman said in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that was made public on Wednesday.
The deal, which ends more than three decades of nuclear isolation of India, cleared a hurdle last week when the International Atomic Energy Agency approved an India-specific safeguards agreement.
Next, India will have to get a waiver from the 45-member NSG. Then the measure would be presented to the US Congress for ratification.
The administration has said it hopes to do that around September 8 when Congress reconvenes after a summer break.
Berman, a Democrat from California, said, “I am a friend of India and a supporter of US-India nuclear cooperation. Yet I find it incomprehensible that the administration apparently intends to seek or accept an exemption from the Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines for India with few or none of the conditions contained in the Hyde Act, which paved the way for US nuclear cooperation with India.
“Such an exemption would be inconsistent with US law, and will place American firms at a severe competitive disadvantage, and undermine critical US nonproliferation objectives.”
Berman also pointed to the clock. “It is not likely that Congress will have sufficient time to fully consider all the issues and details surrounding the agreement, the associated safeguards agreement, and the NSG decision... prior to the target adjournment date of September 26,” he said.
“It would be better to review these complex matters in the next Congress when they can receive a full and serious examination,” he added.
A State Department spokesman declined to comment. The agreement is regarded as one of President Bush’s top foreign policy initiatives, and the administration has said it remains committed to it.
The measure has also enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Congress. Berman had proposed several killer amendments to the Hyde Act, but they were all defeated.