Civil nuclear bill likely to clear in 36 hours, says US
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Civil nuclear bill likely to clear in 36 hours, says US

Burns says that the bill will be within the parameters of the pact between US and India, reports Nilova Roy Chaudhury.

india Updated: Dec 07, 2006 23:08 IST

As United States Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns expressed hope that the reconciled final bill on Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation would pass through the Congressional process within the next 36 hours, celebrations in New Delhi stayed muted.

Officials denied that the bill had hit any procedural roadblocks, saying that the vote would take place before the Congressional session closed on Friday.

Official sources said the bill would be binding on the US Administration and would not affect the Indian government's functioning. The bilateral 123 agreement currently being worked out would be the binding agreement on India.

Emphasisingthat the most difficult phase was over with the actual negotiations of the past 18 months, Burns, who claimed he had not seen the final bill, was hopeful that it would meet Indian concerns and would be within the parameters of the agreement reached between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W Bush on July 18, 2005.

"We had tough issues to deal with. There has never been a deal quite like this".

Stressing that the US Congress was "very respectful of Indian sovereignty," Burns, however, sought to place India firmly with the United States in "the mainstream of efforts to repudiate Iran's nuclear weapons programme."

"India has been a very responsible country with a strong track-record against proliferation," Burns said, trying to downplay any curbs that might be placed on India’s relations with Iran.

"The United States believes in Iran’s right to civil nuclear power, but not to nuclear weapons," Burns said, "and wants a peaceful diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear problem."

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told the Rajya Sabha on Thursday that the deal with US for civilian nuclear cooperation cannot be linked with North Korea's nuclear test or Iran's nuclear policy.

"The India-US nuclear understanding is based on its own merits with a view to addressing India's growing energy requirements. It cannot be linked either with North Korea's nuclear test or Iran's nuclear policy," Mukherjee said.

On Tuesday, the US House of Representatives endorsed a motion to instruct negotiators to retain language in the Senate version of the bill to require Bush to determine that India is "fully and actively" cooperating with US-led efforts to confront Iran's nuclear ambitions before he could allow nuclear cooperation with India.

The Bush administration and the Indian government have urged lawmakers to remove the condition.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday night with Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, Burns said he expected "a very successful and supportive bill", because what he called India’s inclusion into the non-proliferation community enjoyed very wide bipartisan support in both Houses of the Congress.

"We’re confident we’ve done the right thing,' said Burns, brushing aside the possibility of criticism of the bill in India, saying what President Bush and Prime Minister Singh have accomplished is "the liberation of India" from nuclear apartheid.

"The US intends to meet all the commitments that we made to the Indian government on July 18, 2005 and March 2, 2006 and that includes fuel supply assurances," Burns said.

"We believe this bill will be within the parameters of these agreements. Therefore, we will welcome the bill and go ahead and implement it," he said.

The legislation would alter American law to allow India to buy US nuclear fuel and reactors for the first time in over three decades.

Burns, who was in discussions with Menon through the day, said they had significantly carried the bilateral strategic dialogue forward, while Menon, who declined comment on the actual legislation because he had not seen it, said the current level of bilateral engagement was "unprecedented".

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First Published: Dec 07, 2006 19:18 IST