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Put off N-deal with India: US lawmaker
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

A prominent US lawmaker has asked the Bush administration to put off action on the US-India civilian nuclear agreement until next year unless it can assure the Congress that it is seeking an exemption from the nuclear suppliers group (NSG) that is in compliance with the Hyde Act and would suspend the deal if India tests a nuclear weapon.

In a letter sent to secretary of state Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday, Howard Berman, Democratic chairman of the house foreign affairs’ committee, said he found it “incomprehensible” that the Bush administration “apparently intends to seek or accept an exemption from the NSG guidelines for India with few or none of the conditions contained in the” Hyde Act, which enables nuclear trade with India.

Berman said such an exemption would be inconsistent with US law, place American firms at a severe competitive disadvantage and undermine critical US nonproliferation objectives. “It would also jeopardise congressional support for nuclear cooperation with India this year and in the future,” he warned.

Berman said if the administration was “unwilling to change its position and make clear to the other members of the NSG that it will only accept an exemption that fully conforms to the Hyde Act, then I would urge you in the strongest possible terms to suspend all US efforts to seek an NSG decision on India for the remainder of this administration.”

“Given the lateness in the Congressional session, it would be better to review these complex matters in the next Congress when they can receive a full and serious examination,” he added. The US Congress is currently on a month-long summer recess and is scheduled to be back on September 8. President Bush’s term in office ends in January.

Berman asked Rice on Wednesday to instruct the US representative to the NSG not to seek or support any exemption for India that “does not faithfully reflect all of the Hyde Act conditions.”

The Bush administration is pressing Germany, the current chair of the NSG, to schedule a plenary session of the body in late August to consider an exemption for India, with a second plenary session possible in early September.

Berman noted that should the NSG agree by consensus on exemptions for India and the Bush administration were to submit it to the Congress after September 8, there would not be enough time for lawmakers to consider the agreement.

“Any effort to consider the agreement outside of the requirements of current law will be impossible if the Administration accepts an NSG exemption that fails to include the Hyde Act conditions,” he said.

Berman also expressed concern over the “potential for a significant time gap between an accelerated NSG decision and congressional action on the India agreement.” He said this would give other countries an “unacceptable head-start in securing commercial nuclear contracts with India, thus placing US firms at a competitive disadvantage.”



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