M A I N   N E W S

A smooth sailing for nuke Bill

Washington, November 16
Raising hopes for the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, the Senate today took up for debate a legislation to implement the pact with many senators expressing strong support for it.

As the debate progressed, the upper house of the US Congress adopted an amendment that seeks to limit the supply of nuclear fuel commensurate with India's "reasonable reactor operating requirements".

Leading the house in backing the deal, Richard Lugar, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the passage of the bill was in the US national security interests.

He warned colleagues he would oppose any attempt to delay or impose additional conditions on the agreement.

Calling the agreement a "victory" for bilateral relations, Democrat Joseph Biden, who will take over as head of the Foreign Relations Committee, said, "...the Senate is engaged in a truly historic process. When we pass this bill, America will be a giant step closer to approving a major shift in US-Indian relations."

Biden and Lugar opposed another amendment that sought to link nuclear fuel and equipment exports to India with New Delhi's capping its weapons programme.

Senators are expected to debate the finer aspects of the agreement, including 18 amendments to the bill known as the United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act S 3709. It is expected many amendments will be settled by voice vote.

A similar bill to implement the nuclear deal was passed by the House of Representatives on July 26.

Lugar, making the first presentation in the Senate in support of the legislation, said, "We should not hold up the significant non-proliferation gains afforded by this initiative in order to seek a fissile material cap that India has indicated it will not consider in the absence of similar commitments by Pakistan and China." He said, "The US and India have engaged in initial discussions on a multi-lateral Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT), to be negotiated in the Conference on Disarmament. We should press for rapid progress in that context." Lugar described as a "killer" condition an amendment moved by Democrat Jeff Bingaman that aims to link nuclear exports to India to a Presidential determination that New Delhi has halted production of fissile materials.

At the start of the Senate session, both Majority Leader Bill Frist and Minority Leader Harry Reid expressed confidence that the House would take a stand on the bill either today or prior to breaking away for the Thanksgiving recess tomorrow.

Lugar and Biden also opposed another amendment by a Democrat Senator that called on the US to continue to support a 1998 UN Security Council resolution that asked India to halt its nuclear weapons programme and sign the NPT and CTBT.

The amendment adopted by the Senate was proposed by Democratic Senator Barack Obama.

It said, "It is the policy of the US that any nuclear power reactor fuel reserve provided to the government of India for use in safeguarded civilian nuclear facilities should be commensurate with reasonable reactor operating requirements." Republican Senator Sam Brownback, who chaired the South Asia sub-committee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when India conducted its 1998 nuclear tests and was one of the foremost champions in urging the Clinton administration to lift economic sanctions against New Delhi, expressed full support for the nuclear deal.

He stressed this agreement "is not about sacrificing non-proliferation" issues but about "recognising the reality of India's 30-year programme".

Defeated Republican Senator George Allen argued this was a deal that had been "properly crafted" and urged his colleagues to examine it in "totality".

Allen said India has no adverse record in the realm of non -proliferation and its "nuclear weapons are for their self-defence". PTI



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