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N-trade bill comes up before Congress

Congressional sources, however, said that the bill was not expected to come up for hearing before end of month.

india Updated: Mar 16, 2006 17:31 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

A bill to amend the Atomic Energy Act to facilitate the US-India civilian nuclear deal is being introduced in the US Congress.

The bill is being introduced on Thursday by Henry Hyde (Republican from Illinois) and Tom Lantos (Democrat from California) in the House of Representatives and by Richard Lugar in the Senate.

Congressional sources, however, said that the bill was not expected to come up for hearing before the end of the month.

"There is no timeframe to it," one official said.

Introduction of the bill adds a legislative dimension to a measure that Bush and his close team have pursued with a great deal of conviction.

It also caps days of pronouncements by many administration members in support of civilian nuclear cooperation with India, including a particularly upbeat endorsement by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Senator Lugar is chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is known to have serious reservations about the deal.

The US government has to amend the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 in order to sell nuclear technology to India.

India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The civilian nuclear cooperation pact between the US and India was first initiated in July 2005 and formalised in the first week of March during President George W Bush's official visit.

The legislation is being introduced at a time when Bush is severely embattled over several foreign policy and domestic issues, including the escalating violence in Iraq.

While Bush's approval rating is at 36 per cent, both the houses of Congress are disenchanted with the administration over issues such as wiretapping of phones as well as the now abortive deal to hand over the running of several US ports to a Dubai-based company.

In an article in The Washington Post, meant as an appeal to the lawmakers, Rice wrote: "Our agreement with India is unique because India is unique."

"India is a democracy, where citizens of many ethnicities and faiths cooperate in peace and freedom. India's civilian government functions transparently and accountably. It is fighting terrorism and extremism and it has a 30-year record of responsible behaviour on non-proliferation matters," Rice added.

Notwithstanding such extraordinary praise diplomatic and congressional sources do not expect the bill to be passed easily.

The administration has aggressively reached out to lawmakers on Capitol Hill in the past one week in order to persuade House and Senate members who are deeply suspicious of the deal.

While many believe that eventually the bill would be passed, there is an odd chance of it failing.

That could leave many red faces in the Bush administration.

First Published: Mar 16, 2006 11:08 IST