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Bush to sign nuke deal on Dec 18
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

President George W. Bush is expected to sign into law on December 18 a historic Bill that overturns more than three decades of US policy by permitting civilian nuclear trade with India. The Bill won overwhelming approval from both the Senate and the US House of Representatives last week.

According to sources, the White House ceremony on December 18 will include key supporters of the Bill in Congress as well as a select few from the Indian American community, who have invested a considerable amount of time and money in lobbying for the deal.

NRI chant: ‘It was worth the effort. We have made history’

"It was worth the effort. We have made history," Ramesh V. Kapur, one such Indian-American, told The Tribune. Dismissing criticism of the deal from the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Leftist coalition partners, he said: "Their reaction is disappointing. This is an excellent deal. India has got 99.9 per cent of what it wanted. For the critics, it's more a case of the grapes being sour."

Mr Kapur praised the efforts of the Indian-American community. "In the end it was the passion of the community that got this Bill passed," he said. The Bill, he added, was in part about winning respect for the community. "Indian Americans had the most to gain."

Mr Sanjay Puri, founder and chairman of the US India Political Action Committee who actively lobbied for the deal, told The Tribune that it was "pretty extraordinary" how the divided community came together. But in hindsight, he added:"We could had a little more coordination."

As the Bill progressed through Congress, many in the Indian-American community sought desperately to see their hand in its success and win recognition.

“Success has many fathers, failure has none,” Mr Puri observed dryly.

Not everyone is enamoured by the efforts of the Indian American community. Dino Teppara, Legislative Director to South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilson, admitted that a number of Indian American groups were now claiming credit for the passage of the Bill. “While this is a great accomplishment, the last year has shown the massive shortcomings of organisations headed by first generation Indian Americans outside [Washington] who are only interested in photo-opportunities with lawmakers and creating images of power and influence through their own self-promotion,” he told The Tribune.

“It is high time to recognise that the future of our community’s success lies in the second generation, and let them lead the way from now on.” The Bill was approved by a 330-59 vote margin in the House on Friday night. The Senate, despite having ardent critics of the Bill in its chamber, passed it by unanimous consent on Saturday morning.

A congressional source explained that “unanimous consent” was obtained to ensure the smooth passage of the Bill. “India’s friends on the Democratic side of the aisle were intent on making this a full transparent measure with overwhelming bipartisan support,” the source said.

In the Senate, most business is conducted by unanimous consent. Since this can be denied by a single member, it’s much harder to ram a legislation through. “You can do it occasionally, but you’ve got to choose your battles very carefully and be prepared for the results to be overturned if the Senate balance switches,” the source said.

Noting that California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, an inveterate critic of the nuclear Bill, wasn’t intent on keeping this Bill from becoming law at any cost, the source said her intent was merely to air her concerns publicly, have her amendments voted on which they were, by recorded votes), and make her objections well-known. Unanimous consent does not mean that a measure has the active “vote” of every Senator - merely that every senator is willing to permit the measure to be passed by the Senate.

A senior congressional source said the strategy of the Bush Administration and New Delhi “was doomed for failure. Given the congressional calendar and lack of any genuine Republican interest, beyond the purely rhetorical, it might never have obtained the necessary floor time for a recorded vote.” Fortunately, the forces of rationality defeated the ‘do-nothing’ White House and the ‘do-nothing’ Republican-controlled 109th Congress,” the source added.

The next hurdle involves the so-called 123 Agreement. Anupam Srivastava of the University of Georgia told The Tribune:”This Bill is only the enabling document. The practical domain of cooperation will be in the 123 Agreement” which US and Indian negotiators are struggling to finalise.

Many hurdles are expected in these negotiations. A US source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he didn’t think “the Indians will like the section on the transfer of sensitive nuclear technology and will press for a one-time, advance US consent to reprocessing of US-origin spent fuel.”

He added:”I don’t think the US will be inclined to accept that.” Other likely points in what sources describe as tortuous 123 Agreement negotiations will be the question of putting safeguards in perpetuity, backup safeguards and the right to terminate nuclear cooperation if India tests a nuclear weapon.

“I believe the Indians will try to correct what they see as the legislation’s deficiencies in negotiating the 123 Agreement. This will be a difficult negotiation,” the US source said.



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