M A I N   N E W S

Rice: be ready for changes in N-deal
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

THE Bush administration, mindful of pressure from prominent members of the U.S. Congress, has reportedly indicated that India must be prepared to accept “amendments” to a civilian nuclear deal.

A group of visiting Indian parliamentarians said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice conveyed this sentiment to them during a meeting at the State Department in Washington. “She did not say basic (changes to the framework) but that India should be prepared, should be ready for some amendments which will be within the framework,” Rajya Sabha MP Shahid Siddiqui, who was a part of the delegation, was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India.

“She said ... if the amendments are within the spirit of the July 18 agreement then we should be prepared for it. The message was that there are going to be amendments and we should be ready for it,” he said.

Mr Siddiqui said the delegation told Miss Rice that it was essential the deal be approved as soon as possible. “What we are concerned is that if it doesn’t go through now, then it will be difficult to get it through. We feel it should be done before the summer recess.”

But he said Miss Rice insisted, “What is important now is the sequence. That how fast you are able to engage the International Atomic Energy Agency and get the safeguards — not the agreement but that the basic framework should be clear to Congress.”

As debate on the deal moves ahead on Capitol Hill some members of Congress have been eager to attach conditions before approving civilian nuclear cooperation with India. At a recent hearing, Senator Joseph Biden, the Democratic co-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that this backing for the deal would be conditional. “I and many others, I suspect, are considering amendments that might deal with what I believe to be the shortcomings in this negotiated agreement,” Mr Biden said.

Congressman Henry Hyde, the Republican chairman of the House International Relations Committee, had indicated a similar need for conditions. However, diplomatic sources say he has since denied this.

India, and until now the Bush administration, have been opposed to any changes to the nuclear deal which they argue has been “delicately balanced.” Ronen Sen, India’s Ambassador to Washington, told The Tribune that he has been telling members of the U.S. Congress that “any substantive change to the deal, however well intentioned, most likely will result in an unraveling of the agreement.” He has so far met with 57 members of Congress.

“If they attach riders they are going to kill it. It is a finely tuned and balanced agreement. One or two words here or there make all the difference,” Mr Sen said, reminding that in the initial stages of the discussions, negotiators — both Indian and American — were willing to walk away without reaching an agreement.

Diplomatic sources are confident that Congress will eventually approve the deal. “This is an uphill battle,” a senior official conceded, on the condition of anonymity. However, if Congress does not approve it by mid-July, before its summer recess, it is unlikely to get passed this year as other issues on the agenda will crowd it out.

Pointing out that India has sufficient fuel supplies for its plant at Tarapur, officials say there is no tearing hurry for the deal to be approved. A similar agreement with China took 13 years to pass Congress.



US mum on blacklisting Taliban

New Delhi , May 3
Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, who yesterday visited Kathmandu and interacted with Nepealese political leadership, today met Dr Karan Singh here to have a “better feel and better understanding” about the situation in Nepal.

Mr Boucher, who is the first senior US official to have visited Nepal after restoration of democracy there, told reporters that his discussions with Dr Karan Singh mostly pertained to the recent developments in Nepal.

Mr Boucher remained non-committal on declaring Taliban a terrorist organisation , saying it was a legal matter and should be left to experts in Washington. He, however, admitted that the Taliban was a threat to Afghanistan. — TNS


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