M A I N   N E W S

Senate panel okays N-deal with a rider
Bill to impose punitive measures if India tests nuclear weapon
New Delhi ‘extremely upset’, may reject its contents
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

A bill passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday seeks to impose punitive measures in case India tests a nuclear weapon - provisions that sources describe as being harsher than those contained in the Hyde Act.

Meanwhile, an Indian-American community leader, who has been closely involved with the deal, told The Tribune that the Indian government was “extremely upset” with the contents of the bill and “will definitely reject” it.

The bill sailed through on a 19-2 vote in the key Senate committee, but with a financial crisis on Wall Street occupying lawmakers' consideration, officials say final approval is likely to come down to the wire. Two Democratic senators - Barbara Boxer of California and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin - voted against the deal. Feingold proposed the sole amendment intended to toughen restrictions on selling India technology to reprocess nuclear fuel. His amendment was defeated 15-4 in a vote.

Swadesh Chatterjee of the US-India Friendship Council told The Tribune, “There was obviously a big disconnect between the Indian government and the State Department, which blessed the deal.”

Chatterjee said Indian officials had told him New Delhi would not accept the present language of the bill. North Carolina-based Chatterjee, who is camping in Washington to drum up support for the nuke deal, said there is a “good chance that they will freeze the whole bill and do it next year, rather than accept it as it is in the current format”.

Noting that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had spoken with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman to push the House version of the bill through on Wednesday, Chatterjee predicted the House bill will be similar to the Senate version.

Section 101 of the bill states: “The Agreement shall be subject to the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, the Henry J Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006, and any other applicable United States law.”

Sources familiar with the text of the bill describe it as “politics as usual”. They say the Hyde Act only concerns the US because it is the “enabling legislation” that amends existing US laws and allows the US government to enter into civilian nuclear cooperation with India. Parameters of what the US and India will do are specified by the Hyde Act for the US, but the sovereign document that binds the US and India is only the 123 Agreement.

“The Hyde Act does not say we cannot provide nuclear reactors to India, it doesn’t say you have to stop cooperation if India tests, it just says there is a mechanism in place and then the president has the authority to decide,” said a source, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Anupam Srivastava, director of the Asia programme at the Centre for International Trade and Security at the University of Georgia, described language in the bill as “irksome”. He told The Tribune: “They have simply highlighted the negative consequences, which only becomes actionable if India is in substantive breach of its commitments. India has no reason to do so because the deal is essential to acquiring foreign reactors and fuel for both foreign and indigenous reactors.”

The “declaration of policy” section of the bill states that “in the event that nuclear transfers to India are suspended or terminated … it is the policy of the United States to seek to prevent the transfer to India of nuclear equipment, materials, or technology from other participating governments in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) or from any other source.”

Srivastava explained: “That is a nonbinding portion of it. When they say it is their policy to seek to encourage other countries in the NSG this is one state of the NSG that is seeking to encourage other countries to reach some common benchmarks, but then through consensus other members have to decide. Other countries do not have this restrictive approach.”

Sources, who have been closely involved with the deal, say the language of the bill “reflects the handiwork of the non-proliferation guys who want to tinker with the nonbinding section”.

“These things will become fodder for the Left and critics in India, but that misses the point that when India went in for the deal it was denied nuclear technology and all of that is available now,” said a source, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“They can politically utilise it to rub the government’s nose in the dirt. But the government has not lied.”

In terms of reprocessing foreign supplied fuel, sources say, actual need does not surface until after more than a decade, by which time India would have established a good track record and India’s needs would have become much less and overall economic and strategic relationships with other countries will have strengthened.

The bill was co-sponsored by Indiana Republican Sen Richard Lugar and acting committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, a Democrat. Sen Joseph R. Biden Jr, the committee’s chairman and the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential nominee, played an active part framing the bill.

Following the vote, Biden issued a statement saying he was “pleased” with the vote. “Today’s committee passage is significant, but several steps remain before this bill becomes law,” he said, adding he hoped Congress can “complete the job in the few days remaining before adjournment-and I’ll continue fighting as hard as I can to achieve this important victory”.

Lugar said he was confident of cooperation from the Bush administration and a strong bipartisan team in Congress to complete action on the bill this year.

The House of Representatives is preparing its own version of the bill. It is not mandatory for the House Foreign Affairs Committee to call a hearing on the deal, and as of Wednesday none had been scheduled. It appears very likely that the bill will be sent directly to the House floor for action. The Senate and House must reconcile the versions of their bills before a final vote can be cast.

An official who has been involved in the process on Capitol Hill told The Tribune both sides - the Bush administration and India - are keeping a close eye on the language of the joint resolution of approval.

“We are watching that very closely to see if they will add conditions,” the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said. “Whether it’s the case of India or not, Congress always tries to put its stamp on legislation.”

Congress is expected to go out of session on September 26. But as lawmakers grapple with a $700 billion bailout proposal to help address the problems on Wall Street, congressional sources say this may force an extension of the session.

Officials on both sides would like to see the deal wrapped up by the time President George W. Bush meets Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the White House on Thursday. “What better present could we give to the Prime Minister than to get this passed?” Dodd said.

Asked if he would be disappointed if the deal were not to be wrapped up during his visit, Singh told reporters travelling with him from India, “In politics one has to learn to live with disappointments. I don’t believe we have reached that stage yet. I am still hopeful that it will happen.”

In response to a question on whether it was still possible to get things done, Singh replied: “Let’s see what happens. I am not an astrologer.”

The White House meeting is being described by officials as helping maintain “an element of continuity” in US-India relations. An Indian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Tribune that Bush is very fond of the Prime Minister and described the chemistry between the two leaders as extremely good.

Meanwhile, a group of prominent South Asia experts, many of whom have held senior positions in US governments in the past, has written to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging him to quickly pass the nuclear deal.




Civilian N-energy
India, China to cooperate
Ashok Tuteja writes from New York

Putting the NSG episode behind them, India and China today decided to cooperate in the area of peaceful use of civilian nuclear energy and expressed satisfaction over the progress in bilateral talks to resolve the boundary dispute.

At a meeting here, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao also spoke about enhancing trade and economic ties between the two countries.

Briefing reporters on the hour-long meeting held in a “very warm and friendly” atmosphere at the New York Palace Hotel, where Manmohan Singh is staying, foreign secretary Shiv Shanker Menon said India and China had cooperated in the past in the civilian nuclear energy field and would do so in the future as well.

He said China had joined the consensus in favour of the nuclear suppliers group (NSG) giving its nod to India to undertake nuclear trade at the 45-member cartel’s meeting in Vienna earlier this month.

“China was part of the NSG consensus. There would not have been a consensus if China had not joined it...that issue is behind us,” Menon said.

Earlier, China’s attempt to block a consensus had come in for sharp flak in India. In fact, New Delhi had expressed its disappointment over Beijing’s role when Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi visited India soon after the NSG meet. However, China had maintained that it had supported efforts to evolve a consensus in favour of the India-specific waiver.

On the border dispute, the two prime ministers, observing that it was a complicated issue, expressed satisfaction over the talks being held between the special representatives (SRs) of the two countries. The SRs - National Security Adviser M K Narayanan on the Indian side and Dai Bingguo on the Chinese side - had last week met in Beijing for the 12th round of their talks.

Menon said the two countries proposed to achieve the target of $60 billion of bilateral trade by 2010, possibly two years in advance.

Notably, it was the seventh meeting between Manmohan Singh and Wen, who have established a personnel rapport between them. They recalled the shared vision document the two had released together during Manmohan’s visit to Beijing in January. The document talks about various issues, including climate change and international trade. It was decided that they would expand the level of consultations on all these issues.

Replying to a question, Menon said Pakistan also figured in the talks in the context of the situation in South Asia.

Wen presents Abhinav's photo to Manmohan

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao presented a special gift to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at their meeting here today - a picture of India's first Olympics individual gold medallist Abhinav Bindra. Singh gladly accepted the picture in which Bindra is seen collecting his medal at the last month's olympics held in Beijing.



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