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US Congress may set terms on nuke deal

Bush administration had warned that such moves could scuttle the deal.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2006 16:37 IST
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Congress may seek to put unspecified conditions on a landmark India-US nuclear-energy agreement, a key lawmaker said.

Bush administration had warned that such moves could scuttle the deal.

The disclosure by Rep Henry Hyde, chairman of the House of Representatives International Relations Committee, could presage more trouble for the controversial accord.

The deal has come under sharp attack from lawmakers and others concerned about the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Under the pact, India will receive US nuclear technology in return for separating its military and civil facilities and opening the civilian plants to international inspections.

Hyde, a member of President George W Bush's Republican Party from Illinois, said on Monday in a release that he discussed the agreement last week with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Hyde and the committee's senior Democrat, Tom Lantos of California, agreed to a Bush administration request to introduce legislation needed to implement the deal, "but Hyde suggested that Congress may seek conditions for its approval," the release stated.

"This is a complex agreement with profound implications for US and global interests. Congress will need to take a close look at its many provisions in order to come to an informed decision," Hyde was quoted as saying.

He gave no further details. A committee spokesman said Hyde was protecting congressional prerogatives by raising the possibility of conditions but was not yet prepared to be more specific.

Bush administration officials have warned that if Congress adds conditions they could wreck the deal.

Lantos called the deal a breakthrough but said, "All members of Congress will undoubtedly wish to see the details of the agreement before deciding how to vote."

The administration on Thursday formally asked Congress to begin implementing the deal by changing US. Laws to permit nuclear sales to India, ending a three-decades-old ban. The 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which oversees nuclear transfers, also must change its rules.

India has been barred from acquiring foreign nuclear technology because it refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and developed nuclear weapons.

Lantos' spokeswoman, Lynne Weil, predicted it would take Congress "months" to act.

"There are a lot of members raising concerns, including some in the India-US Caucus," she said. "I don't think anyone wants to rush precipitously into something like this. The implications for non-proliferation are huge."

Rice, in a Washington Post article, defended the deal and said it would create jobs in the civilian nuclear industry.

Noting that India plans to import eight nuclear reactors by 2012, she said, "If US companies win just two of those reactor contracts, it will mean thousands of new jobs for American workers."

She disputed criticisms that the deal would help India make more nuclear weapons and lauded India's "30-year record of responsible behaviour on non-proliferation matters."

A former UN weapons inspector, David Albright, concluded in a report last Friday that India circumvents other countries' export controls and leaks sensitive technology in procuring materials for its nuclear programmes.