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House resolution could delay N-deal

US lawmakers ask Govt not to seek NSG exemption for India until Congress' concerns with Hyde Act are addressed.

world Updated: Oct 05, 2007 09:43 IST
Arun Kumar

In a move that could potentially delay the India-US nuclear deal, three US lawmakers have crafted a resolution asking the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to place tough constraints on future nuclear dealings with New Delhi.

The bipartisan non-binding resolution introduced in the US House of Representatives asks the administration not to seek an NSG exemption for India until it has addressed Congressional concerns over compliance with the enabling Hyde Act.

Citing Congressional aides Washington Post Thursday said the resolution was aimed at influencing the coming debate within the 45-member group of nations engaged in nuclear trade and a budding controversy in India over the pact.

The timing of the resolution introduced by Democrat Howard Berman and Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Jeff Fortenberry, also appears linked to the visit next week in India of Mohamed El-Baradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it said.

New Delhi needs to sign an India specific additional protocol with IAEA to bring its civil nuclear reactors under international safeguards as also persuade NSG to exempt it from nuclear trade rules before the nuclear deal comes up before US congress for final approval.

The resolution also asks Washington, which has begun to lobby for NSG approval, to support an exemption only if it contains key provisions of the Hyde Act, including the end of trade with India if it conducts a nuclear test and a ban on the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technology to India.

The Post said Congressional aides cited some of the text, saying they hoped it would make clear to India Congress's increasing uneasiness with the pact.

One noted language in the resolution's preamble that if the NSG approved the exemption, but Congress voted down the deal, India could engage in civil nuclear commerce with every country but the US, which would put US firms "at a competitive disadvantage."

US critics of the nuclear deal that would allow resumption of nuclear commerce between India and US after 30 years say the 123 agreement finalised by them last July to operationalise it does not comply with the spirit of the enabling law approved by the Congress in December 2006.

The deal has run into rough weather in India too with its leftist opponents, who support Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition government from outside, alleging the 123 agreement impinges on Indian sovereignty.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has voiced its "concern" over the deal with a senior Pakistani diplomat suggesting that it denied a level-playing field to the two South Asian nuclear neighbours.

"Our concern is that while the US and other sources will provide India with the fissile material for its civilian nuclear reactor, India would be free to use all its fissile material for use in its weapons programme, with the result that its ability to produce its nuclear warheads will grow substantially, which of course will affect the whole idea of nuclear deterrence (in the region) that Pakistan would like to maintain," Zamir Akram, foreign policy advisor to Pakistan Prime Minister, said Thursday.

Such 'discrimination' in the past has been counter-productive, Zamir Akram suggested.

To "the argument that some people in Pakistan were involved in proliferation activity, I can only say that there is no country including India in the world whose hands are clean in terms of proliferation activities," he added.

India's 1974 nuclear explosion posed a strategic challenge to Pakistan, and moved it toward developing its nuclear capability. In 1998, when India tested again, Islamabad followed suit as it felt that not having tested its device would have created a situation of strategic asymmetry, which would have been extremely dangerous, Zamir Akram said.

Since the nuclear tests by the two countries in 1998, a situation of deterrence has emerged between them, he said suggesting, "this can actually be a stabilising factor if both sides agree that they would accept certain limits."

Pakistan is not opposed to Washington building close relations with India but would like that this relationship should not be at Pakistan's cost. "It should be an even-handed approach," he said.

The US, because of its partnership with both Pakistan and India, is in a better position to help from the background to resolve difference and problems that exist between them, Zamir Akram suggested.

First Published: Oct 05, 2007 09:33 IST