US House to vote on N-deal today
A landmark civilian nuclear cooperation accord with India looked likely to be approved by the US House of Representatives on Wednesday, congressional sources said.
The vote, to be preceded by debate, would be an important, but far from final step, in moving the agreement forward.
The deal, allowing India to buy American nuclear reactors and fuel for the first time in 30 years, "could be the most important step made in cementing a critical partnership between India and the United States," said Rep Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat.
"Most members of Congress agree that a strong relationship with India, the world's largest democracy and one of the fastest growing economies, is a national priority in the 21st century," he said.
But Democratic Rep Edward Markey of Massachusetts, co-chairman of a bi-partisan task force on non-proliferation, said the deal would "throw fuel on a simmering nuclear arms race in Asia (and) will send the wrong message to Iran and North Korea."
He and other lawmakers accused the Bush administration of delaying publication of a State Department report that is rumoured to contain new evidence that Indian companies and individuals have transferred weapons of mass destruction technology to Iran and Syria.
Since 2003, the United States has imposed sanctions on at least seven Indian entities for illicit transfers of nuclear and chemical technology, including two in December 2005, the lawmakers said.
They argued the House should be able to know if any more Indian firms or persons have been cited before it votes.
US officials denied the report was delayed for political reasons and said it would be released soon. They insisted India has a good record on protecting sensitive technology and there was no information in the report, required by US law, that would substantively affect expected approval of the deal.
The House vote is one step in a lengthy process. The Senate must also approve the bill but a vote is not expected until September. The House and Senate would vote again after Indo-US negotiations on the technical details of the agreement are completed.
Also India must complete negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency on a system of inspections for its civilian nuclear facilities and the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group must change its regulations to allow nuclear transfers to India.