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Bush signs nuke Bill
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

President George W. Bush on Monday morning signed into law a Bill that overturns over three decades of US policy by permitting civilian nuclear cooperation with India.

Mr Bush signed the Henry J. Hyde United States-India Atomic Energy Peaceful Cooperation Act of 2006, in the East Room of the White House in the presence of a handful of members of the Congress, representatives of the US business community, Indian Americans and members of a cross-section of American think tanks, all of whom toiled hard to make this day possible.

The Bill is named after Illinois Republican Congressman Henry J. Hyde. A co-chairman of the powerful House International Relations Committee, Mr Hyde played a key role along with his Democrat counterpart Congressman Tom Lantos in framing and shepherding the controversial legislation through the US Congress.

On the Senate side, Senators Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican, and Joseph Biden, Delaware Democrat, had an equally significant role as co-chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Bill has generated a fair amount of criticism from India’s Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, ruling coalition partners Left and some nuclear scientists.

In the US, the nonproliferation lobby has rallied strongly against it claiming it weakens Washington’s efforts to check the proliferation of nuclear technology and weapons of mass destruction.

Walter Andersen of the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington admits “even people like me who support this deal know there are risks. The arguments of the nonproliferation lobby should be taken seriously”.

“But is it going to destroy the NPT (nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty)? My view is it will not,” he told The Tribune.

The Bill the President signed into law, Mr Andersen noted, “is an American Bill, not an Indian Bill. Once the 123 Agreement comes into the picture that’s when the Indians will have to be concerned about what is in the agreement.”

US negotiators earlier this month left a draft of the 123 Agreement with the Indian Government and Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said last week the Bush administration was waiting to hear back from New Delhi.

An Indian official told The Tribune that India’s response would only come after the ongoing debate in Parliament on the merits of the deal.

Ramesh V. Kapur, who founded the Indian American Security Leadership Council to lobby for the deal, believes that with the euphoria of the signing ceremony now over, the Indian American community still has a job to do. “We still have to win unanimous approval for this deal at the Nuclear Suppliers Group,” Mr Kapur told The Tribune.

“I don’t think the Bush administration will do any heavy lifting (for the deal). They have done zero heavy lifting so far.” “I don’t know if Bush has any capital left,” he said.

“The Indian American community will have to do more to prod this administration into action,” he added.

Mr Andersen noted: “All substantive issues are still there (in the final Bill), only the language has been changed to make it more palatable.”

Swadesh Chatterjee, who rallied members of the Indian American community under the umbrella of the US-India Friendship Council, said he felt the Bill was a good one for India regardless of the “noise” made by the opposition. “What (Richard) Nixon did for China, I think this President (George W. Bush) has done for India,” he said.

Mr Chatterjee said the success of the community’s lobbying effort shows what can be achieved “if we all work together”. The community raised half a million dollars, which was spent on newspaper advertisements and lobbying efforts to convince members of the Congress to support the deal.

“When the deal was announced in March it was dead in the water. There weren’t too many people in the Congress who were in favour of it,” Mr Chatterjee recalled.

A joint effort by Indian Americans, the US-India Business Council and the Indian Government’s lobbyists in Washington helped turn the tide in the deal’s favour.

“The overwhelmingly positive vote reflected a confluence of powerful forces: a focused administration, supported by political vision coming from both sides of the political aisle; India’s own effective advocacy efforts, which accurately depicted India’s rising global stature; and, strong support provided by a committed US industry, joined for the first time by a unified Indian American community,” Ron Somers, president of the US-Indian Business Council, said while discussing the large bipartisan support for the Bill in the Congress.

The world is going to be safer: Bush

In his remarks before the signing, Mr Bush noted that the bill had four main goals — meeting the energy challenges of the 21st century and laying the foundation for a new strategic relationship; promoting economic growth and investment in India's civilian nuclear industry for the first time; helping India reduce emissions and improve its environment; and paving the way for India to join the global effort to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

"The world is going to be safer as a result of the deal", Mr Bush said, adding, "The American people have come to see India as a friend". Mr Bush called the US and India "natural partners" and said the rivalries that separated the two were no longer present.

He acknowledged the Indian American community's contribution to the passage of the bill. "The Indian American community was vital to explaining this strategic bill to our fellow citizens", he said, adding, "Your voice was very effective, and I welcome it."

Besides a strong showing from the Indian American community, members of the Congress - Senator Richard Lugar, Senator Bill Frist, Senator George Allen and Congressmen Frank Pallone, Gary Ackerman, Joseph Crowley and Thad McCotter - were also present at the White House, as was Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, the Bush administration's pointperson on the deal.

"The signing of this bill is a historic moment for both countries", said Congressman Tom Lantos in a statement, "one that will usher in a new age of friendship and cooperation.”



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