‘US committed to n-deal, but no control over Congress’

July 10th, 2008 - 9:45 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Arun Kumar
Washington, July 10 (IANS) As India finally approached the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the US reiterated its commitment to their civil nuclear deal but said it had no control over the US Congress, which must approve its implementation. “The position of the United States Government is we are committed to this deal,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said when asked to comment on a report that despite clearing a key hurdle political hurdle in New Delhi, the deal may still not win final approval in the US Congress this year.

“And certainly, if the Indian Government completes a lot of the discussions it has been having about moving forward on a variety of different fronts regarding this deal, the United States Government is committed to doing whatever it can to fulfil its commitments here domestically,” he said.

“There are, of course, other aspects to the agreement that would require actions by others; for example, the IAEA,” McCormack said pointing to the remaining hurdles that have to be cleared before the implementing 123 agreement comes up for final approval before the US Congress.

Besides completing a safeguards agreement for its civil nuclear facilities with the IAEA, India needs to secure approval from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which governs global nuclear trade.

On its part the Bush administration has “the Congress to work with on this issue. They have an important role to play in it,” McCormack said. “But we have been in close contact with the Congress and key members of Congress on this issue, really throughout this period, to keep them updated on it.”

But the official admitted that the Bush administration, which is keen to complete the nuclear deal before President George Bush leaves office in January 2009, has no control over the legislative control.

Asked to comment on a Washington Post report that the Democratic controlled Congress may not be keen to hold a lame duck session of the outgoing Congress after the November election, he said: “That is not under our control. That is certainly under the control of the leadership in Congress.”

The daily had suggested that despite Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s success in negotiating an agreement with the Samajwadi Party to ward off the threat to his coalition government from leftist withdrawal of support, the Congress may not have enough time left to approve the deal.

This was so as the Hyde Act giving preliminary approval to the US-India agreement requires that Congress be in 30 days of continuous session to consider it. But because of the long August recess, less than 40 days are left in the session before Congress adjourns Sep 26.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also repeatedly insisted there will be no lame-duck session after the Nov 4 elections. There would be little incentive for the Democratic majority to hold a lame-duck session if, as expected, the Democrats significantly gain seats.

But the Post also cited administration officials and congressional aides to suggest New Delhi could begin nuclear trade with other countries even without the Congressional approval of “the Bush administration’s signature deal.”

With the near impossibility of congressional passage by year-end, officials and experts have begun to focus on the possibility that other countries - such as France and Russia - would rush in to make nuclear sales to India while US companies still face legal restrictions, the Post said.

“India doesn’t need the US deal at all” once the NSG grants approval, it cited Sharon Squassoni, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as saying. “It was a fatal flaw in the logic of the US Congress.”

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