‘US working hard to get n-deal through this year’

August 8th, 2008 - 10:57 am ICT by IANS  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, Aug 8 (IANS) The US says it’s working hard to get Congressional approval for its civil nuclear deal with India by the end of this year after hopefully getting the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s (NSG) clearance by early September. “We’re working with Congress to discuss the issues and resolve any outstanding concerns that they may have,” acting state department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said Thursday, contending that the deal with India will be “consistent” with America’s domestic law.

Responding to a senior Democrat lawmaker’s suggestion to suspend congressional approval of the deal until the next Congress, which convenes in January 2009, he said: “We’re working through the NSG to obtain their approval by early September.

“We hope at that time to present it - the package - to our Congress. And we hope that after discussions with them that they will be able to pass that and we will be able to proceed with this very important programme.”

Days before the NSG meets to decide on lifting curbs on civil nuclear trade with India, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Howard Berman had asked the Bush administration to shelve the deal unless it can guarantee suspension of trade if India conducts another nuclear test.

“I want to stress the fact that we believe this is an important programme, we believe that we can get it through this year. We’re going to work toward that end,” Gallegos said, commenting on Berman’s suggestion in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“And obviously anything that we proceed with will be consistent with US law,” he added.

Warning that an NSG waiver “inconsistent” with the enabling US law, the 2006 Hyde Act will “jeopardise” the nuclear deal in the US Congress, Berman told Rice that “given the lateness in the congressional session, it would be better to review these complex matters in the next Congress, when they can receive a full and serious examination”.

The California Democrat’s warning came amidst hectic efforts by Washington and New Delhi to persuade the 45-nation NSG to grant India an unprecedented waiver allowing nuclear trade with a state that has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Once this remaining hurdle is cleared, the administration, which is keen to get the nuclear deal approved before President George W. Bush leaves office in January, plans to turn to the Congress for approval of the pact when it reconvenes Sep 8 after summer recess.

A major obstacle was cleared recently when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog, approved an India-specific safeguards agreement on India’s civil nuclear plants.

Berman warned that the Congress would not act before its Sep 26 target adjournment date unless the Bush administration pushed the NSG to attach conditions to its waiver in strict conformity with the contentious Hyde Act passed by the US Congress in December 2006 to approve the nuclear deal in principle.

The Hyde Act among other things requires that nuclear assistance to India would be suspended if it resumed nuclear testing.

Meanwhile, other countries might rush in to take advantage of a more lenient NSG waiver and do business with India on their own terms, Berman warned.

“This would give other countries an unacceptable head-start in securing commercial nuclear contracts with the Indian government, thus placing US firms at a competitive disadvantage,” Berman wrote to Rice.

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