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N-Bill: Over to Bush
Overwhelming approval from both US Houses
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

Both the US House of Representatives and the Senate have overwhelmingly approved legislation that allows the US to engage in nuclear commerce with India. The action paves the way for President George W. Bush to sign the legislation into law.

On Friday night, the House voted 330-59 in favour of the bill, known as the “Henry J. Hyde United States-India Atomic Energy Peaceful Cooperation Act of 2006”.

The Senate followed suit early on Saturday morning, approving the bill by unanimous consent.

A Senator may request unanimous consent on the floor to set aside a specified rule of procedure so as to expedite proceedings. If not a single Senator objects, the Senate permits the action, but in the event of any objection, the request is rejected.

The legislation amends the US Atomic Energy Act of 1954, which prevented the US from exporting nuclear technology to India.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee co-chairman Sen Joseph Biden, Delaware Democrat, hailed the bill’s passage as “a tremendous victory for Indo-US relations”.

Mr Bush has 10 days from the passage of the bill to sign it into law.

However, it is unlikely he will wait that long on this nuclear bill, widely seen as a rare, but welcome, foreign policy triumph for his embattled administration.

The bill reverses over three decades of US policy, barring nuclear trade with India because it has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It commits India to undertake a number of measures, including separating its nuclear facilities used for civilian purposes from its military ones, opening several of its nuclear facilities to international inspections, agreeing not to test nuclear weapons, and strengthening its nuclear export controls, among other provisions.

Illinois Republican Congressman Henry J. Hyde, after whom the bill is named, noted that the legislation was the culmination of more than a year of work by members and staff of the House and Senate, as well as countless discussions and meetings with the Bush administration, experts in a wide range of fields, and many others.

“It balances the establishment of a strong foundation for the Global Partnership between the US and India announced on July 18, 2005 by President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while also strengthening US efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons capability to other countries,” he said.

In a sign that despite watering down a provision on Iran members of the Congress continue to be concerned about India’s relationship with Tehran, Mr Hyde said: “We are especially pleased, and have been assured by the administration, that this legislation will encourage India to play an active, substantial, and leading role in the international effort to stop Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.”

Democrats refused to see the passage of the bill as a foreign policy victory for Mr Bush.

Taking a swipe at the Bush administration, House International Relations Committee co-chairman Tom Lantos, a California Democrat and key architect of the bill, said the bill was “not the administration’s bill”.

The original proposal, he noted, “sought to give the President complete authority to waive all restrictions under the current law that would have complicated implementation of the Indo-US nuclear trade.”

He said: “India is a state that should be at the very centre of our foreign policy and our attention.”

“This expansion of peaceful nuclear trade with India will usher in a new partnership between India and the US based on our shared objective of preventing the spread of dangerous nuclear technology to countries and groups that would use it for evil purposes,” Mr Lantos added.

For and against

Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who will be the top Republican on the House International Relations Committee in January, told The Tribune: “This far-sighted and historic legislation is a long-delayed recognition that the world’s two largest democracies share an extraordinary array of common interests and that a closer and increasingly cooperative relationship between them holds enormous potential to promote the strategic interests of both.”

Noting that the House vote “puts us one step closer to President Bush signing this historic legislation into law”, Dino Teppara, Legislative Director to Republican Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina, said: “While a number of Indian-American groups will claim their advocacy and lobbying saved the day, political insiders know that the real players here were President Bush, White House staff, Secretary (of State Condoleezza) Rice and her staff, and Chairmen Hyde and (Richard) Lugar and their staffs. Without them, we could not have achieved this victory.”

Opponents of the bill made a spirited last stand prior to the vote in the House.

An inveterate critic, Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey, called the bill a “historic mistake that will come back to haunt the US and the world”.

He warned that members of the Congress would “rue this day” on which the bill was approved. Contending that the agreement would encourage Iran and Pakistan to develop nuclear weapons, he said: “They will say look at the Americans, they preach temperance from a bar stool.”

Congressman David Wu, a Democrat from Oregon, said: “If a mushroom cloud erupts over a US city, it will be traced back to this legislation.”

Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich warned this agreement “will be seen as a licence to other countries” to go ahead with proliferation of nuclear technology and weapons.

Future hurdles

The 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in Vienna must make an exception to its rules for India. The NSG must agree by consensus to changes to its guidelines that currently restrict nuclear cooperation with states such as India that do not accept full scope safeguards.

Walter Andersen of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, told The Tribune that Congress’ actions would be closely watched by NSG members and those who had so far been undecided would now likely make up their minds in the favour of the deal.

Indian officials must also negotiate a safeguard agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency; and another congressional vote must be held after the US and India complete ongoing technical negotiations on the 123 Agreement.

Daryl Kimball, of the Arms Control Association, noted: “The debate is not over and other states now have the opportunity and the responsibility to weigh in and fix the deep flaws in the arrangement.”



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