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US lawmakers take potshots at N-deal
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

Critics have begun lining up to take potshots at a nuclear deal struck last week between the USA and India even before both sides have had a chance to reveal the contents of the agreement.

On Wednesday, 23 members of the US House of Representatives shot off a letter to President George W. Bush expressing concern that Washington may have capitulated to India's demands regarding nuclear cooperation.

A longtime critic of the deal, Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Edward J. Markey, led the group in warning the President that any inconsistencies between the so-called 123 Agreement, US law and the Hyde Act would put final congressional approval in doubt.

Cosigners on the letter include both members who originally supported and originally opposed nuclear cooperation with India, showing that the desire of Congress to defend the law transcends the differences which existed during the debate over the Hyde Act in 2006, the group noted.

Sources told The Tribune the Bush administration officials had not yet briefed members of Congress or their staff on the contents of draft document, and no briefings had been scheduled as of Wednesday evening.

“The President cannot rewrite laws during a closed-door negotiation session with a foreign government,” Mr. Markey complained, adding that though some of lawmakers disagreed during last year's debate over nuclear cooperation with India, all were intent on defending the prerogatives of Congress and reinforcing that the law must be followed without exceptions.

Amid reports that the US will work with India to secure uninterrupted nuclear fuel supply in the event India tests a nuclear weapon, State Department spokesman Sen McCormack said, “we're not going to agree to anything that is not in the US national interest.”

"We're certainly not going to do anything that we believe is harmful to either our national security or foreign policy interests," he added. He said there were some "continuing discussions" regarding that agreement. A statement is likely to be made on Friday.

Among the bipartisan cosigners of Markey's letter are: Rep. Howard Berman (senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee), Rep. Brad Sherman (chairman of the Terrorism, Non-proliferation, and Trade sub committee), Rep. Dan Burton (senior member of the Foreign Affairs

Committee), Rep. Ellen Tauscher (chairwoman of the Strategic Forces sub committee), Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, Rep. Henry Waxman (Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee), and Rep. Jane Harman (Chairwoman of the Intelligence sub committee).

Before any nuclear cooperation can commence between the USA and India, Congress must pass the 123 Agreement in an up or down vote.

India must also negotiate a permanent and unconditional safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the USA must obtain consensus agreement from the 45 members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to change their guidelines to allow nuclear transfers to India.

Despite the letter from lawmakers the deal is expected to be approved by Congress, however, the margin of support may be less than it was for the Hyde Act, which was merely an enabling legislation.

Markey said, "The Congress passed the Hyde Act less than a year ago, settling minimum conditions that must be met for nuclear cooperation with India, as well as the non-negotiable restrictions on such cooperation.

These conditions and restrictions are not optional nor are they advisory; they were passed by the Congress and signed by the President. If the 123 Agreement has been intentionally negotiated to side-step or bypass the law and the will of Congress, final approval for this deal will be jeopardised."

The members wrote "to underscore the necessity of abiding by the legal boundaries set by Congress" for nuclear cooperation, and to again warn that India's growing economic and military ties to Iran could imperil congressional approval of the nuclear deal.

They reminded the President that "The Agreement for Nuclear Cooperation is subject to the approval of Congress, and any inconsistencies between the Agreement and the relevant US laws will call congressional approval deeply into doubt."

Meanwhile, the US-India Business Council has applauded the progress made toward a bilateral 123 Agreement.

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PM briefs President, BJP on N-deal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 26
India and the USA will tomorrow make a simultaneous announcement that the 123 agreement on the civilian nuclear cooperation is a done deal.

However, the text of the 123 agreement will not be released tomorrow and the two governments will only be sharing the salient features of the agreement.

The announcement here will be done at a press conference at 6 p.m. by national security advisor M.K. Narayanan, foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon and Atomic Energy Commission chief Anil Kakodkar. Exactly at the same time, under secretary of state for political affairs Nicholas Burns will make a similar announcement in Washington DC.

On the political side of the nuclear deal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today explained at length to the top brass of the BJP how all red lines had been removed from the draft 123 agreement.

Later in the evening, he made his first formal call on the new President, Pratibha Patil, and briefed the country’s first woman President about the draft agreement. The Prime Minister moved quickly in completing the political and constitutional formalities after he had secured the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security and the Cabinet Committee of Political Affairs and briefed top Left leaders of the CPI and CPM yesterday.

A near full strength BJP delegation met the Prime Minister today. The delegation was led by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Jaswant Singh, former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha, former union minister Arun Shourie and party president Rajnath Singh. The only big BJP leader who was not present at the Prime Minister’s luncheon meeting was leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha L.K.Advani, as he is in Singapore.

Significantly, Brajesh Mishra, former national security advisor and principal secretary to the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, accompanied the BJP delegation for today’s briefing.

The government took this briefing seriously and matched the BJP delegation in strength, number and seniority. Apart from the Prime Minister himself, the briefing was done by external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, national security advisor M.K.Narayanan and foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon.

The Prime Minister’s Office has prepared a note summarising Manmohan Singh’s speeches in Parliament on the nuclear deal, particularly his landmark speech in the Rajya Sabha on August 17, 2006. In this note, a dozen-odd points have been listed out pertaining to the Prime Minister’s assurances in Parliament. The PMO’s thrust at briefings for the Left parties yesterday and the BJP today was that all assurances he made before Parliament are reflected in the 123 draft agreement.

For its part, the BJP, however, remained sceptical about the nuclear deal. Brajesh Mishra told this correspondent that the BJP leadership conveyed to the Prime Minister that it would not be able to give its formal reaction until it has studied the agreement.

Mishra said the government did not share the text of the agreement with the BJP. The government assured the BJP leaders that the text will be shared after its formal release next week, Mishra said.

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BJP fears not fully allayed: Yashwant
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 26
Despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assurance to his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee that the proposed Indo-US nuclear cooperation agreement would have no impact on the country's strategic programmes, former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha today said that the BJP's apprehensions had not been allayed completely.

The assurance was given to a delegation of top BJP leaders, led by Vajpayee during a two-hour meeting.

Our apprehensions have not been allayed completely, Sinha told newspersons after the meeting at the Prime Minister's residence here, but did not elaborate.

We have no reason to distrust him, but we would like to first go through the text of the draft agreement, he said.

The text of the agreement is clearly frozen. Neither India nor the US can now make any changes in it. But it (government) has not shared with us the text of the agreement. It tried to share only the main elements of the agreement, he said.

Sinha said the BJP delegation told the Prime Minister that in the absence of the text to which we are not privy at this stage, it will be difficult for us to to respond in detail to the provisions of the bilateral agreement.

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