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US Congress poised to approve N-deal

The Senate and the House conferees report success in breaking a logjam over a compromise enabling legislation.

india Updated: Dec 08, 2006 12:21 IST

The landmark India-US nuclear deal is poised to clear the last hurdle with the Senate and the House conferees reporting success in breaking a logjam over a compromise enabling legislation.

The conferees, appointed by the two chambers to evolve a formula that would not only reconcile their differing versions but also substantially address New Delhi's concerns over the final bill, tabled their report in the House at 3.27 pm (1:57 am Friday).

The final bill combining provisions of the two versions is expected to come up for vote in both the House and Senate on Friday before it goes to President George Bush to sign it into law and reopen doors for nuclear commerce between India and United States after 30 years.

"This legislation will allow the United States to engage in peaceful nuclear cooperation while safeguarding US national security and non-proliferation efforts, as well as Congressional prerogatives," the four conference managers stated, commending the new legislation to the Congress.

"It is an opportunity to build a vital strategic partnership with a nation that shares our democratic values and will exert increasing influence on the world stage," said Senate and House foreign relations panels chairpersons Dick Lugar and Henry Hyde and ranking Democrats on the two panels, Joe Biden and Tom Lantos.

The bill reflects the widely held view in both the House and the Senate that peaceful nuclear cooperation with India can serve multiple US foreign policy and national security objectives, but that this must be secured in a manner that minimises potential risks to the global non-proliferation regime, they said.

The conference agreement will help solidify New Delhi's commitments to implement strong export controls, separate its civilian nuclear infrastructure from its weapons programme, and place additional civilian facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

An agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation with India would be a powerful incentive for India to cooperate closely with the United States in halting proliferation and abstaining from additional tests of nuclear weapons, they said.

In addressing India's concerns over the Iran issue, the conference changed the provision making the deal contingent on New Delhi aligning its Iran policy with that of Washington from a condition to an "expectation".

"The conferees, along with both Houses, place great emphasis on their expectation that India's full cooperation with efforts by the US and the international community to prevent Iran from acquiring the capability to produce nuclear weapons will be forthcoming," the report said.

There was no official word on what had held up the legislation, but reports suggested that House Republican Majority leader John Boehner, one of nine conferees, wanted an unrelated clause to increase India's H1-B visa quota to piggy ride on the bill.

However, Joseph Biden ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who takes over chairmanship of the panel in January, declined to oblige saying such issues should be dealt with by the new Democrat controlled Congress.

The final reconciled version also substantially addresses India's potential deal breaker concerns over provisions relating to export of nuclear materials or technology, an end-use monitoring programme and a cooperative proliferation monitoring mechanism.

Some of the conditions are more suggestive now than prescriptive, analysts noted. Section 115 of the Senate bill proposing a proliferation monitoring mechanism for one now only "authorises" the US Energy Secretary to enter into such an arrangement.

Some in the Indian nuclear establishment saw this as a potentially mischievous clause that could enable Washington to monitor India's strategic assets.

Similarly, India's concern about Iran and a couple of other issues have been addressed by making them presidential reporting requirements rather than prescriptive sections of the bill.

Section 105(8) in the Senate version of the bill originally required a determination by the president that India is fully and actively participating in US and international efforts to dissuade, sanction and contain Iran for its nuclear programme consistent with United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Section 106 prohibited the export of any equipment, materials or technology related to the enrichment of uranium, the processing of spent fuel, or the production of heavy water, while Section 107 required an end-use monitoring programme to be carried out with respect to US exports and re-exports of nuclear materials, equipment and technology sold or leased to India.

But with no voting scheduled on the final piece of legislation by late on Thursday night "it's coming down to the wire" is how State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack put it.

Asked if US under secretary of state for political affairs, R Nicholas Burns, who is Washington's chief negotiator for the India deal, was in New Delhi because India may have a problem with some provisions of the emerging legislation, he replied, "Not as far as I know."

"You know that this can be a nerve-wracking process as you go through this. But this is how democracies work. The Indian government understands that and we're sure that they appreciate it.

"And he is going there to talk to them about the agreement, how to move forward on it, as well as how to move forward on the broad arc of our relationship," McCormack added.

First Published: Dec 08, 2006 01:41 IST