M A I N   N E W S

N-deal law this month
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 2
There is a strong likelihood of the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement becoming a US law in a couple of weeks. Once this camel’s hump is crossed, the India-US strategic relations will reach the next level and the two countries will become the first in the world to have such a comprehensive nuclear cooperation mandated by the two governments.

The two chambers of the US Congress — House of Representatives and the Senate — are scheduled to begin the process of reconciling the two Bills on December 4.

The reconciliation process, which essentially entails rafting a uniform Bill, is likely to be over within a couple of days. After the draft uniform Bill is ready, the two chambers of Congress are to vote on it, separately.

The last stage of the long and protracted process would be President George W. Bush signing the Bill and amending the American law of 1954, which debarred any US entity to have nuclear commerce or any kind of cooperation with India.

The House will take up voting first. The voting by the two chambers is expected to take place on December

7 or 8. The current lame-duck session of Congress is scheduled to close on December 8. This means that the Bush Administration has only five working days left to translate the July 18, 2005, understanding reached between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh into a US law. If the US congressional nod does not come by December 8, it will mean that the entire process will have to start all over again next year.

South Block mandarins are having butterflies in their stomach already in view of the short-fuse situation. Both governments have made huge political investment in the nuclear deal. Indian concerns are two-fold: if the nuclear deal will be passed by Congress in the lame-duck session and whether the reconciliation exercise will introduce any obnoxious clause to the Bill.

Any clause that seeks to deprive India of full nuclear fuel-cycle utilisation, or seeks to make the deal non-permanent with periodic certification requirement will not be acceptable to New Delhi. So will be any putative nuclear apartheid.

It is against this backdrop that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has dashed off a letter to her country’s lawmakers urging them not to impose unacceptable conditions to the nuclear deal that could end up in the deal having to be renegotiated.

In view of this, the Bush Administration has decided to dispatch its key diplomat, Mr Nicholas Burns, to India in the second half of next week. The exact dates of Mr Burns’ India visit are yet to be finalised.

However, he is likely to be here within the brief window of December 5 night to December 9.



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