Lantos twist to N-legislation

Senior Congressman's proposal could delay the deal, writes S Rajagopalan.

india Updated: May 12, 2006 01:58 IST

In an unexpected development, senior Congressman Tom Lantos on Thursday announced his plan to introduce a "compromise" legislative proposal in a bid to prompt a divided US Congress to support the Indo-US nuclear deal.

He, however, said he would come forward with his proposal only after the US-India agreement and India's safeguards pact with the International Atomic Energy Agency are submitted to the Congress.

Once that happens, the Lantos proposal would provide for "specific, expedited procedures to assure an up or down vote on the agreement in the House and the Senate".

However, with both the agreements still under negotiation, analysts felt that Lantos' proposal could lead to further delays in the Congress' disposal of the nuclear deal instead of putting it on the fast track that the ranking Democrat intends to do.

Lantos himself obliquely conceded the possible delay of the whole exercise. As he put it, "The final vote of the Congress on the US-India nuclear accord would occur whenever the (bilateral) agreement is completed -- whether it's a week from now, six months or a year."

Outlining his broad proposal during a House International Relations Committee hearing, Lantos said: "The (Bush) administration's suggested legislation to implement this bold nuclear deal -- which I fully support -- does not have the wide and bipartisan backing it needs."

Lantos, who disclosed that he will be meeting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in this connection next week, said that with very few legislative days left in this crowded Congressional year, there was not enough time to develop the consensus necessary to accomplish all the objectives of the administration.

"We need to come up with a legislative compromise that will keep the momentum for this important agreement moving forward," he told the hearing at which the deal's severest critic, fellow Democrat Edward J. Markey, appeared as a witness and listed his host of objections.

"My legislation will put Congress on record explicitly welcoming the proposed nuclear accord and its positive impact on our relations with India," Lantos said but conceded that it "would not immediately make all of the major legislative changes to the Atomic Energy Act sought by the administration and necessary to complement this agreement".

Lantos said his draft legislation will also express "the sense of Congress" that while non-proliferation and the Non-Proliferation Treaty are cornerstones of US foreign policy, peaceful nuclear cooperation with countries that are not parties to the treaty may still be in the interest of US foreign policy and non-proliferation if such countries meet certain criteria.

First Published: May 12, 2006 01:58 IST