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Senate votes for N-ties with India
“Killer amendments” defeated in 16-2 verdict
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a Bill to amend U.S. laws and permit nuclear trade with India, which is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Bill explicitly stipulates that the agreement will be terminated if India conducts a nuclear test, proliferates nuclear weapons or materials, or breaks its agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or the United States.

The committee approved the Bill in a 16-2 vote. At the start of the debate committee chairman Sen. Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican, urged colleagues on the panel not to support “killer amendments.” As members of the committee one after the other added their names as co-sponsors to the Bill initial concerns of a tough battle faded away. Two Democratic senators — Barbara Boxer of California and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin — voted against the bill.

Mr. Feingold attempted to add a binding amendment that would ensure that the nuclear deal would be only civilian in nature and none of the assistance from the U.S. would be used to develop India’s nuclear arsenal. Mr. Lugar called this a “killer amendment” and it was defeated in a vote.

Senator John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said the exceptional deal “makes all the sense in the world. India, unlike some signatories to the NPT, has been a good steward of nuclear materials and technologies. India can be a critical ally to advance our global nonproliferation efforts.”

Senator George Allen, Virginia Republican, said the U.S. wanted “India as a strategic partner – we want them by our side. “Ms. Boxer, however, complained that the amended Bill, while an improvement on the Bush administration’s proposal, “doesn’t address the major proliferation problem I have with the deal.” She worried that providing nuclear assistance to India’s nuclear programme will free up India’s domestic sources for use in its nuclear weapons programme.

Senator Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, introduced an amendment that should India’s actions trigger a U.S. cutoff of nuclear technology then the U.S. should urge other nations not to undercut it by supplying those materials. He noted “serious infractions” would lead to this situation. The amendment was accepted.

A related Bill was passed in the House International Relations Committee on Tuesday by a margin of 37-5.

Senate committee co-chairman Sen. Joseph Biden, Delaware Democrat, worked with Mr. Lugar on the new Bill. The Bill requires annual presidential certifications that India is meeting its commitments under the July 2005 joint statement, its separation plan, New Delhi’s safeguards agreement and Additional Protocol with the IAEA, the 123 Agreement, and applicable U.S. laws regarding U.S. exports to India.

Mr. Biden said his support for the deal was based on “trust” in the Indian government. He pointed out that while the U.S. nonproliferation lobby has complained that this deal would undercut American commitments this was also a very difficult deal for the Indian government as the Bharatiya Janata Party is opposed to it.

The Bill sets the rules for subsequent congressional consideration of a 123 Agreement between the U.S. and India. A 123 Agreement is the term for a peaceful nuclear cooperation pact with a foreign country under the conditions outlined in Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act.

Like the House committee Bill, the Lugar-Biden Bill preserves Congress’ prerogatives with regard to the 123 Agreement. Under the Bush administration’s original proposal, the 123 Agreement would have entered into force 90 days after submission unless both houses of Congress voted against it and then overcame a likely presidential veto.

Mr Lugar said he was pleased the administration changed course on this matter and agreed to submit the 123 Agreement with India to Congress under normal procedures. This means that both the House and the Senate must cast a positive vote of support before the 123 Agreement can enter into force. “In our view, this fully protects Congress’ role in the process and ensures congressional views will be taken into consideration,” he said.

The Senate committee hearing was initially scheduled for June 28 but was postponed to suit the schedules of committee members.

Mr Lugar called the July 18 civilian nuclear deal “the most important strategic diplomatic initiative undertaken by President Bush.” The Senate panel has undertaken an extensive review of the India nuclear agreement. Four public hearings have been held with testimony from 17 witnesses, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In closed session, members were given a classified briefing from Undersecretaries of State Nicholas Burns and Robert Joseph.

President George W. Bush was scheduled to meet Mr Lugar on Monday and discuss today’s hearing. That meeting was cancelled at the last minute.

Mr Lugar had submitted 174 written questions for the record to the Department of State on details of the agreement. “By concluding this pact and the far-reaching set of cooperative agreements that accompany it, the President has embraced a long-term outlook that seeks to enhance the core strength of our foreign policy in a way that will give us new diplomatic options and improve global stability,” Mr Lugar said.

“The US-Indian agreement resulted from a delicately balanced negotiation. Neither side got everything it wanted,” Mr Lugar noted. “Nevertheless, the Bush Administration and the Indian Government came to the conclusion that the agreement was in the national security interest of both countries,” he added, urging members of the committee to vote in favour of the bill without adding conditions that would kill the agreement.

Mr Biden said it was essential to get an “overwhelming” majority in the committee and urged that the legislation be sent to the floor of the Senate with a “strong endorsement” from the committee.





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