Berman supports India n-deal on assurance from Condoleezza Rice

September 27th, 2008 - 12:23 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghWashington, Sep 27 (IANS) Key US lawmaker Howard Berman says he agreed to support the India-US civil nuclear deal after being assured that US would seek a global ban on export of enrichment and reprocessing technology to non-members of Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) like India.”Secretary of State (Condoleeza) Rice made a personal commitment to me that - in a change of policy - the United States will make its ‘highest priority’ at the November meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)” to persuade the cartel to “prohibit” the export of such technology, he said.

“This would be consistent with the intent of Congress as expressed in the Hyde Act,” said Berman, the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, initiating the debate in the House of Representatives on a bill sponsored by him to approve the implementing 123 agreement.

“And in light of the improvements for Congressional oversight in this bill, and the Secretary’s commitment, I will be voting for H.R. 7081 (the approval bill),” said the lawmaker who was earlier reluctant to move the deal forward due to reservations over the NSG waiver for India.

However, Rice, who played a key role in bringing Berman round, said: “Just - I think it’s just - I think the wording actually is to seek strict limits on.”

“And it’s true that at the NSG, the United States has pursued this policy in the past, but we have pursued several other initiatives at the same time,” Rice said, according to an interview transcript released by the State Department.

“And what I said to chairman Berman, given that the administration is coming to an end, this is something that we hope is doable. I couldn’t make any promises about delivery, but we would seek to do this.

“But I think what chairman Berman is speaking to is that we had also paired it with several other initiatives, and we’ll seek this one as the highest priority now,” said Rice, who has been leading Bush administration’s efforts to win Congressional approval of the India deal amid America’s great financial crisis.

Berman agreed to sponsor in the House the approval bill endorsed 19-2 by the Senate panel foreign relations panel after calls from Rice as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met President George W. Bush Thursday evening.

Berman said he was “a strong advocate of closer US-India ties, including peaceful nuclear cooperation” and voted for the enabling Hyde Act, approved by the US Congress in December 2006.

“We can approve the agreement now, with the oversight safeguards built into this bill, or wait until the next Congress and start over,” by waiving the 30-day waiting period provided by the Hyde Act, he said.

“But if we wait, however, we will likely only vote on a simple resolution of approval, without any of these oversight improvements,” Berman said, telling lawmakers: “On balance, integrating India into a global non-proliferation regime is a positive step.

“And before anyone gets too sanctimonious about India’s nuclear weapon programmes, we should acknowledge that the five recognised nuclear weapons states have not done nearly enough to fulfil their agreements under the NPT,” the lawmaker said.

This included not “making serious reductions in their own arsenals, nor - in the case of the United States - ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty”.

Berman said he continued “to have concerns about ambiguities in the agreement” and sought “unanimous consent” to insert several documents in the record to clarify the meaning of “authoritative representations” described in the proposed legislation.

The lawmaker claimed the bill “also gives Congress the right to disapprove a presidential decision to resume civil nuclear cooperation with any country - any country, not just India - that tests a nuclear weapon”.

“It will also ensure that India takes the necessary remaining steps to bring its IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards agreement fully into force, and to conclude an Additional Protocol with the IAEA, as India has committed to do.

“It gives Congress the ability to review the future reprocessing arrangements that will allow India to reprocess spent US fuel,” Berman further claimed.

But what finally made the reluctant lawmaker change his mind was what he described as “a personal commitment to me” by Rice late Thursday about seeking an international ban on export of enrichment and reprocessing technology Washington’s “highest priority”.

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