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Getting Congress nod difficult

The passage of the legislation to provide India-specific waivers in the US Atomic Energy Act through the US Houses of Congress will be "very difficult".

india Updated: Apr 05, 2006 02:38 IST

Asa bevy of American legislators descend on India this week, highly-placed sources say the passage of the legislation to provide India-specific waivers in the US Atomic Energy Act through the US Houses of Congress will be "very difficult". This despite the Bush administration training all its big guns on trying to get the agreement through Congress this session.

On the eve of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's pitch for the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement before the Senate and House International Relations Committees, sources say that if the law doesn't get passed, it will, "obviously", "negatively impact bilateral relations". The larger bilateral relationship is being viewed through the "prism of this agreement". An official said: "Nobody is really interested in the other, manifold aspects of the relationship."

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington last week, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said: "This (the nuclear deal) is an initiative that will determine the direction of our future ties. India cannot be a partner and a target at the same time."

The US administration has introduced a draft legislation to amend article 123 of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act. After detailed presentations by Rice and other senior administration officials, there will be a discussion and debate, after which the issue will be voted upon.

The Indian government will "pull out all stops to woo" Senator Chuck Hagel (Republican), Senate Foreign Relations Committee member; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert (Republican); and Senator Edward Kennedy (Democrat) who are among a dozen key Congressmen travelling to India between April 9 and 16.

Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar was to leave for Vienna on Tuesday to begin consultations with the IAEA for India-specific safeguards in an Additional Protocol.

The sources say there is no question of "full-scope safeguards" arising, as India has a recognised nuclear weapons programme, which is why Kakodkar is leaving for Vienna.

The US has presented the draft agreement to the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in Vienna, in which it lays down the broad contours of the Indian separation plan of March 2. The draft leaves it to individual NSG member countries to determine whether they will engage with India's civilian nuclear power sector.

"There is no scope for change from what was agreed upon on July 18 and what is contained in the March 2 separation plan," an official source said, adding: "These are very finely balanced agreements."

First Published: Apr 05, 2006 02:38 IST