M A I N   N E W S

123 Deal: US to work on quick wrap up
Congress meets at Capitol Hill today
Ashish Kumar Sen
writes from Washington


Rice hopes India won’t ignore American firms and will not approach other NSG members to the disadvantage of US businessmen

An India-specific exemption from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was won only after a flurry of phone calls from President George W. Bush and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to leaders of a handful of countries opposed to the deal.

Given the time and energy it has invested into the civilian nuclear agreement, the Bush administration now expects something in return: that India will not immediately approach other NSG member states with its nuclear shopping list and disadvantage US businesses, which must wait to begin such commerce until the deal is approved by the US Congress.

By winning the approval of the 45-member NSG, India is free to proceed with individual nuclear commerce agreements with all other NSG members other than the United States. There appears to be no written assurance between the two sides that India must wait before US firms can also compete for nuclear orders. Instead this understanding is said to be based on little more than good faith. Asked whether there was a big risk that US companies could be disadvantaged if the deal stalls in the Congress, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said on Saturday she was hopeful it could be wrapped up in Washington soon.

But in a sign that the US would not be pleased if India went ahead with bilateral nuclear trade deals with other NSG members, Rice said, “(W)e have talked to the Indian government about this, and I think they recognise and appreciate American leadership on this issue. And because of that, I think we will have ways to talk to them about not disadvantaging American companies.”

In an interview with this correspondent prior to the final round of the NSG meetings, assistant secretary of state for South Asian Affairs, Richard Boucher, said the Bush administration hoped “to move expeditiously as we have in the IAEA board, to move expeditiously in the NSG and with some understanding from our Congress to move expeditiously there so that there is no question of some people going ahead of others” with nuclear trade orders. Asked whether India had given any assurance that it will not go ahead with these orders, Boucher said, “That hasn't been an issue. We are both trying to make it all work out together. If there is some difference down the road, we will have to discuss it at that time.”

Members of the Congress return to Capitol Hill on Monday for a brief session expected to wrap up on September 26. Lawmakers are not likely to return to work until the new Congress convenes in January, after the next US President is sworn in. This leaves a very small window for the deal to be considered and voted on by lawmakers.

Rice admitted the congressional calendar is short. But, she said, “the main thing is the international work is now done. And, obviously, the Hyde Act is there, and I certainly hope we can get it through because it’s also a big step for the US-India relationship. It’s already a huge step for the US-India relationship. But it would be good to get everything finalised.”

Rice, who spoke to reporters en route to Algiers, indicated that on her return to Washington she would press lawmakers on the need to get the deal wrapped up urgently.

The Bush administration has pushed hard to wrap up a deal many supporters see as its sole foreign policy success. Rice admitted that she herself had made “a lot” of calls to leaders of countries opposed to the agreement.

Ireland, Austria and New Zealand were among the last three critics of the deal.

Last-minute opposition from China prompted a phone call from Bush to his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao, according to diplomatic sources. Declining to get into the details of the negotiations at the NSG meetings in Vienna, Rice said, “I think everybody took everyone else’s concerns seriously, and we found a way to bridge those concerns.”

“This was a big step. It is a big step for all states - and I would include the United States in that - who value the non-proliferation regime, value the NPT, and this is different,” she said, adding, “It’s an exception. And so it’s not surprising that there were concerns. But I think we found ways to bridge those concerns, and I have to say, too, that very much in line with and within the guidelines that the Indian government had represented to its Parliament, but yet India showed a lot of leadership.”

Rice said she was very “pleased” to have received the news of the conclusion of the NSG discussions and the passing of an exemption for India. “This is an important step forward,” she said, adding the US had received a lot of “very good help from the Indian government to make this possible and also from a number of delegations that worked very closely with us.”

She said the NSG exemption was “a really very big step forward for the non-proliferation framework”.

Some hiccups

Washington: A leading and consistent critic of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal

Democratic Congressman Edward Markey of Massachussetts said the Bush administration, “ managed to strong-arm the NSG into skirting normal rules governing international nuclear trade.This agreement effectively blows a hole in the global non-proliferation regime, setting a dangerous precedent”



McCain, Obama also urge haste

John McCainThe US presidential nominees on Sunday welcomed the NSG waiver to India, with Republican John McCain asking Congress leaders to act “expeditiously” to pass the Indo-US nuclear deal and Democrat Barack Obama seeking its quick submission before lawmakers.

Barack Obama“I welcome the decision by the NSG to lift the global ban on civilian nuclear trade with India,” McCain said in a statement in Virginia.

He said this step, critical to implementing the nuclear deal, represents “another building block in the partnership between our two countries”.

From Chicago, Obama issued a statement calling the NSG approval a “positive development” and urged the Bush administration to submit the agreement “quickly” to Congress. — PTI



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