US lawmaker warns against clean NSG waiver for India

August 7th, 2008 - 8:32 pm ICT by IANS  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, Aug 7 (IANS) Days before the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meets to decide on lifting curbs on civil nuclear trade with India, a powerful US Congressman has asked the Bush administration to shelve the deal unless it can guarantee suspension of trade if India conducts another nuclear test. In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Howard Berman said it would be better to suspend congressional approval of the deal until the next Congress, which convenes in January 2009.

“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,” Berman said in the letter made public Wednesday.

The California Democrat’s warning comes 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 which has not signed the nuclear no-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, 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 United Nations’ 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.

“I am a friend of India and a supporter of US-India nuclear cooperation. Yet, I find it incomprehensible that the administration apparently intends to seek or accept an exemption” from the NSG guidelines for India with few or none of the conditions contained in the Hyde Act.

“Such an exemption would be inconsistent with US law, place American firms at a severe competitive disadvantage, and undermine critical US non-proliferation objectives. It would also jeopardise congressional support for nuclear cooperation with India, this year and in the future,” the senior democrat added.

Berman noted that last year he had introduced a resolution that expresses the sense of the House that the president should withhold support from any proposed exemption for India in the NSG guidelines that is not fully consistent with the Hyde Act and that does not incorporate a number of key provisions.

The chairman of a powerful House Committee, which will examine the implementing 123 Agreement when presented to the Congress, said that there will have to be a prohibition on the transfer of enrichment, reprocessing and heavy water production technology by any NSG member state to India.

He also sought a stipulation that NSG supplier states may not grant India consent to reprocess nuclear fuel except in a facility that is under permanent and unconditional safeguards.

“In your appearance before the Foreign Affairs Committee on Feb 13 of this year, you assured me that any NSG decision ‘will have to be completely consistent with the obligations of the Hyde Act’,” Berman wrote to Rice.

“As such, I expect you to instruct the US representative to the NSG not to seek or support any exemption for India that does not faithfully reflect all of the Hyde Act conditions,” Berman told Rice.

The Bush administration contends that the 123 Agreement is in full conformity with the Hyde Act.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in World |