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Bush leaves N-deal in Congress court

If approved, the agreement would end a three-decade-old ban on US civilian nuclear technology sales to India.

india Updated: Mar 10, 2006 18:51 IST

The Bush administration on Thursday submitted to Congress its proposal to change US law to allow the sale of nuclear technology to India, congressional sources said.

The sources said the administration wants the first of two needed legislative steps enacted by May.

They, however,added that this would be difficult because the bill raises questions about an already complicated and controversial nuclear deal.

Approved in principle last July and confirmed in more detail last week by President George W Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the agreement would end a three decade-old ban on US civilian nuclear technology sales.

But it must first be approved by the US Congress.

The 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, which oversees nuclear transfers, also must alter its regulations so foreign countries can supply India, whose rapid economic growth has created huge energy demands.

India is currently barred under US and international law from acquiring foreign nuclear technology because it refused to sign the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and developed nuclear weapons.

The US approval would be a two-step approach, according to the congressional sources familiar with the India case and who were not authorised to speak publicly. Key sections of the legislation were made available to a news agency.

As a first step, the administration's proposal would exempt India from the Atomic Energy Act, which prohibits nuclear sales to non-NPT states, if Bush makes seven determinations.

These include India providing Washington with a "credible" plan for separating its civilian and military nuclear facilities and supporting international efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear enrichment and reprocessing technology.

Although Bush and Singh announced that India would place 14 of 22 civilian nuclear power reactors under international inspections to guard against weapons diversion, one congressional source said the data sent to Congress on this point was incomplete.

Daryl Kimball of the Washington-based Arms Control Association called the presidential determinations "minimal" and said they give the United States "virtually no leverage to ensure India fulfils its end of the bargain."

In addition to obtaining the Atomic Energy Act exemption, the administration must negotiate a nuclear cooperation agreement with India, which sources said could take a year.

That agreement must also be approved by Congress.

But the sources said the administration has proposed that instead of requiring lawmakers to vote in favour of the agreement, the accord would automatically take effect unless Congress moved to block it.

"They want us to change the law and give up the ability of having a higher standard for reviewing this unique agreement, one congressional source said.

"If the deal is so good, why are they so afraid of letting Congress consider it."

First Published: Mar 10, 2006 09:37 IST