N-deal will need Vienna group’s nod
The US Senate yesterday overwhelmingly approved a Bill that seeks to permit civilian nuclear cooperation between the US and India.
The 85-12 vote came after supporters of the deal crushed a handful of “killer amendments” that sought to place conditions on nuclear commerce.
The Senate approval put the US and India a step closer toward civilian nuclear cooperation. The deal must also be approved by the Nuclear Suppliers Group in Vienna.
The House of Representatives approved its version of the Bill in July. Select members from the Senate and the House will meet in a process known as a conference to reconcile differences in the two Bills and consolidate it into a single one before sending it to President George Bush for his signature.
The Senators approved an amendment from Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin that India must participate in efforts to dissuade and sanction Iran for its nuclear programme consistent with the UN Security Council resolutions.
However, an amendment from California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer that India should end military cooperation with Iran was defeated 38-59.
The US suspects that Iran’s nuclear programme is intended to develop weapons, however, Teheran says its goal is to produce peaceful nuclear energy.
Sources said India would ignore lawmakers’ concerns about Iran “at its own peril.”
An amendment from Nevada Republican Senator John Ensign that sought to ensure that the International Atomic Energy Agency inspection equipment was not used for espionage, was taken up for a debate in a closed session and later rejected by a 27-71 vote.
An amendment from Illinois Democratic Senator Barack Obama that seeks to clarify US policy in order to deter nuclear testing by foreign governments was approved by a voice vote.
In a statement, the President said he looked forward to signing the Bill into law soon. He said the US and India enjoyed strategic partnership based upon common values and “the Senate has acted to further strengthen this relationship by passing legislation that will deliver energy, nonproliferation and trade benefits to the citizens of two great democracies.”
Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar, co-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a key architect of the Bill, called the agreement the “most important strategic, diplomatic initiative undertaken by President Bush.”
He said his committee undertook an extensive review of the conditions outlined in Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act.
“The Indian side was not prepared to negotiate and each side reiterated their previous points,” a source said of the recent meetings, adding that “differences abound.”
The House and the Senate must vote in favour of the agreement before it can enter into force.
The other co-author of the Senate Bill, Delaware Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, called the deal a major shift in US-India relations that would bring stability to South Asia.
He said the Bill ended India’s nuclear isolation without jeopardising nonproliferation gains of the past three decades. He said he believed “India understands the consequences of this bilateral agreement as clearly as we do.”
North Dakota Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan had a different view. He said he was “very disappointed” by the “troublesome road for the country.” He said the deal repudiated decades of US policy of “telling the world it’s our responsibility and major goal to stop the spread of nuclear weapons…. It’s a horrible mistake.”
An amendment from Mr Dorgan requiring a determination by the President that India had committed to certain basic provisions in consistence with US nonproliferation goals was rejected by a voice vote.
In his support for the deal, Ohio Republican Senator George Voinovich said by expanding civil nuclear cooperation with India “the US has an opportunity to bring India into an arms control regime that will guarantee greater oversight and inspection rights which will allow us to make India’s pre-existing nuclear programme safer and more transparent.”
The lame duck session of the Congress will break for two weeks and return on December 4 to take up unfinished business.