US House vote on nuclear deal postponedSeptember 27th, 2008 - 8:50 am ICT by IANS
Washington, Sep 27 (DPA) The US House of Representatives held off Friday from voting on a White House plan that would allow the US to sell nuclear material and civilian nuclear technology to India.The House debated the measure Friday evening but deciding to delay a vote on the agreement until at least Saturday. The measure must also pass the US Senate, which has not scheduled a vote but is expected to convene over the weekend.
The Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman, introduced the agreement to lawmakers, and aides believed a vote Friday was likely, but Congress was dealing with a full legislative agenda as it nears recess until after the Nov 4 general elections.
US President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inked the deal in 2006. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the accord Tuesday. Legislative aides predict the agreement will pass both chambers.
The agreement is at the top of Bush’s foreign policy agenda as he prepares to leave office, and it is seen as the cornerstone of stronger diplomatic and economic ties between the two countries.
Bush met with Singh Thursday at the White House and assured him that the US administration was working to win prompt passage of the deal before the current congressional session ends in the coming days.
“It’s taken a lot of work on both our parts, a lot of courage on your part,” Bush said. “And so we’re working hard to get it passed as quickly as possible.”
Since the two leaders signed the deal, both countries have been in complicated negotiations to implement it, mainly to ensure that US technology could not be used in India’s nuclear weapons programme.
India’s refusal to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is designed to prevent the spread of dangerous nuclear material, complicated the negotiations and remains a sticking point in Congress.
Berman said that he urged lawmakers to approve the agreement after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice assured him that the US would seek an international ban on exporting uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing equipment and technology to countries that have not signed the NPT.
Uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing can be used to develop nuclear weapons.
The deal has met opposition from some members of Congress who believed nuclear trading with India undermines international efforts to curb proliferation and sends the wrong message to countries like Iran and North Korea.
“Flashing a green light (to India) sends a dangerous signal to all of those countries” defying international rules on nuclear activities, said Representative Edward Markey, the Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Earlier this month, an organization of 45 countries known as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) granted a US-backed waiver for India to purchase nuclear material on the international market. The waiver was required under rules banning sales to non-NPT members.
Berman said that Rice would take up his demands at a meeting of the NSG in November.
The deal had been hung up earlier this year in Singh’s governing coalition. Smaller parties argued that the agreement compromised India’s sovereignty because of US demands for the opening to international inspections of India’s civilian nuclear reactors - but not military facilities.
That opposition softened in July after Singh prevailed in a parliamentary vote of confidence. India was also required to separate its civilian and military programmes.
The White House has warned that failing to approve the deal will leave US companies out of India’s lucrative energy sector, as France and Russia have moved to complete similar arrangements with New Delhi.
The US had refused to cooperate with India’s nuclear energy programme since the country first detonated an atomic bomb in 1974.
“For 34 years, India has suffered from a nuclear apartheid. We have not been able to trade in nuclear materials, nuclear reactors, nuclear raw materials,” Singh said at the meeting with Bush.
The US Chamber of Commerce has urged Congress to back the accord, saying it would allow US companies to benefit from the $150 billion India is expected to invest in its energy sector through 2030. The Chamber of Commerce said the deal could create thousands of high-technology jobs in the US.