India n-deal now hangs on three key US players

September 11th, 2008 - 11:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Sep 11 (IANS) As President George Bush asked the Congress to approve the India-US deal to clear the last hurdle in the way of the historic accord to end New Delhi’s nuclear isolation, its fate hung on three key players.The Democrat trio, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate majority leader Harry Reid and House foreign affairs panel chairman Howard Berman hold the key to putting the approval process on fast track.

Reid has indicated he will work to win approval this year for the accord to end a three-decade ban on nuclear trade with India, but it was still unclear what view Pelosi and Berman would take.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, leading the administration’s all-out push to seal the deal, has met all the three top Congressional leaders to discuss how to move the deal forward with the lawmakers set to break Sep 26 for the Nov 4 election.

Bush sent the text of the implementing 123 agreement and other relevant documents to the Congress late Wednesday along with a seven-part “Presidential Determination” which is required under the US enabling law, the Hyde Act, for the Congress to take up the deal for consideration.

“Civil nuclear cooperation between the United States and India pursuant to the agreement will offer major strategic and economic benefits to both countries,” Bush said in a Memorandum to the Congress.

The move came after three days of hectic efforts by Rice to push the legislature to approve the deal quickly without insisting on a rule that requires a resting period of 30 days for the legislation.

Alternatively, the Congress could come back for a lame-duck session after the election to approve the “Hyde Amendment package” as the paperwork sent to the Capitol Hill is called.

“Senator Reid indicated that he would try to find a way to move it forward, and will consult with the (Senate) Foreign Relations Committee and the Republican leadership to try and find a way to do so,” his spokesman Jim Manley was quoted as saying.

Asked if that meant Reid would try to advance the deal this year, he said, “Yes.”

But the position of Pelosi, who is reluctant to hold a lame-duck session after the election, is unclear.

So is that of Berman, who supports the deal, but had some reservations about the waiver given by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to India for nuclear trade.

A spokesman for Pelosi said after her meeting with Rice Tuesday that she looked forward to reviewing the formal agreement in detail and to consulting on the matter with her colleagues, including Berman.

Apart from meeting Reid, Pelosi and Berman, Rice has been working on the phone to drum up support for quick passage for the deal with calls to key lawmakers including Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Joe Biden, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Biden is an avid supporter of the India deal.

The Bush administration pulled out all stops to push the deal after it helped win India a waiver for nuclear trade from the NSG removing the last hurdle in presenting the deal to the US Congress.

India had crossed the first hurdle by reaching an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for an additional safeguards protocol for its civilian nuclear facilities.

“The proposed agreement provides a comprehensive framework for US peaceful nuclear cooperation with India,” Bush’s memorandum to the Congress said.

“It permits the transfer of information, non-nuclear material, nuclear material, equipment (including reactors) and components for nuclear research and nuclear power production. It does not permit transfers of any restricted data.”

“Sensitive nuclear technology, heavy-water production technology and production facilities, sensitive nuclear facilities, and major critical components of such facilities may not be transferred under the Agreement unless the Agreement is amended,” it said.

“The agreement records certain political commitments concerning reliable supply of nuclear fuel given to India,” the Bush statement said.

“Agreement does not, however, transform these political commitments into legally binding commitments because the Agreement, like other US agreements of its type, is intended as a framework agreement,” it said.

The agreement will remain in force for a period of 40 years and will continue in force thereafter for additional periods of 10 years each unless either party gives notice to terminate it six months before the end of a period.

In any case the agreement, as noted, is a framework or enabling agreement that does not compel any specific nuclear cooperative activity.

In the event of termination of the agreement, key non-proliferation conditions and controls would continue with respect to material and equipment subject to the agreement.

In addition to his memorandum to the Congress, the president also sent a memorandum to his Secretaries of State and Energy instructing them to take steps for the execution of the deal in Congress.

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