M A I N   N E W S

All clear for N-deal
Senate approves bill 86-13
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

The United States Senate on Wednesday night overwhelmingly voted in favour of overturning a three-decade ban on nuclear commerce with India. The final vote tally was 86-13.

The passage of the deal hands President George W. Bush a rare foreign policy success and allows US businesses to start selling nuclear fuel, technology and reactors to India. The agreement, which was earlier approved 298-117 in the House of Representatives on Saturday, now goes to Bush for his signature. The procedure of getting the measure to the President’s desk could take anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks.

Bush congratulated the Senate and said he looks forward to signing the bill into law. “This legislation will strengthen our global nuclear nonproliferation efforts, protect the environment, create jobs, and assist India in meeting its growing energy needs in a responsible manner,” Bush said in a statement.

The Senate vote came just ahead of an expected trip to India this weekend by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In an interview with The Tribune soon after the deal sailed through the Senate, India’s ambassador to the US Ronen Sen said he was ecstatic and praised the teamwork shown by Indian negotiators involved with the deal since its inception.

Sen, who was serving as secretary of the Atomic Energy Commission of India at the time of the 1974 Tarapur tests that led to the US cutting off nuclear trade with India, said, “Seeing it all come round full circle is very satisfying.”

He said the deal was about more than just diversifying India’s energy portfolio. “It ends a technology denial regime targeted at one of the most responsible countries in the world which has an impeccable non-proliferation record. This technology denial regime was a constraint on our development,” Sen said.

Sen’s one-time negotiating partner, former undersecretary of state R. Nicholas Burns, told Agence France-Presse the process was “a very tough three-year negotiation on the most complex set of issues imaginable but it is resulting in a success because it was in the best interest for both countries.”

Burns, who is now a professor at Harvard University, added: “The advantage of India building more nuclear power plants will benefit not just the Indian people but all those who want to see a reduction in carbon emissions as well.”

Despite this optimistic outlook sources say there is some language in the deal that New Delhi is uncomfortable with. These sources are confident that these “reservations will be met and people will have a good sense of satisfaction.”

Richard Lugar, the Republican co-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and manager of the bill, in a debate described the measure as “one of the most important strategic diplomatic initiatives undertaken in the last decade.” He added: “By concluding this pact, the US has embraced a long-term outlook that will give us new diplomatic options and improve global stability.”

Two senators - Democrats Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico-had earlier attempted to add amendments that would clarify that the US would scrap the deal in the event of a nuclear test by India. The amendment was an attempt to make sure that the US nuclear exports do not help boost India’s nuclear weapons programme. The amendments, which were eventually rolled into one, were rejected by a unanimous vote.

Lugar, opposing the amendment, pointed to Rice’s past assurances that the deal would be called off should India test nuclear weapons. The deal’s benefits, he said, “are designed to be a lasting incentive for India to abstain from further nuclear weapons tests.”

A critic of the deal, Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, noted that while the Dorgan-Bingaman amendment had been rejected, Lugar and Christopher Dodd, the other bill manager, had “effectively made the point the amendment sought to clarify: that there should be and will be consequences if India makes the mistake of resuming nuclear testing.”

The US-India Business Council, which represents many of the firms that now stand to gain from the deal, was swift in its praise of the Senate action. “The benefits will be many and the impact profound, beckoning a new era in US-India relations,” said USIBC President Ron Somers.

Somers noted that by enabling US-India civil nuclear cooperation, India not only joins the international nuclear nonproliferation mainstream, but now has the opportunity to achieve energy security, while protecting the global environment. He said a “massive scope for commercial opportunity” between the US and Indian companies will also be the result. He valued this opportunity at more than $150 billion over the next 30 years and said it would spur a revival of the nuclear power industries of both countries that will create as many as “a quarter million high-tech US jobs for generations to come.”

The Indian American, which had pulled out all stops in a concerted effort to persuade their representatives in Washington to support the nuclear deal, basked in their success on Wednesday.

“Mission accomplished,” declared Ashok Mago, the Texas-based chairman of the US-India Forum. “We are elated. American Indians should be proud of their contributions to make it happen. A successful conclusion to a long journey full of peaks and valleys with many challenges on the way, each making us more determined to succeed.”

Mago noted: “There was always excitement never a dull moment to achieve our goal. What a gift to our country of birth on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday.”

Dino Teppara of the Indian American Republican Council thanked Bush and Singh for their perseverance with the deal.

The Senate vote marked the end of a legislative process that was begun at the White House on July 18, 2005, when Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh first announced the US-India civilian nuclear agreement.

Supporters of India on Capitol Hill also lauded the Senate for approving the deal.

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, founder and co-chairman of the Senate India Caucus, said he believed the “long-overdue deal” would further strengthen our economic and political ties with India as well as U.S. national security. Cornyn said the approval “is great news, and it marks an important milestone in U.S.-India relations, which I believe will grow even stronger.”

California Republican Congressman Ed Royce said the Indian Prime Minister deserved credit “for putting his government on the line, and beating back opposition from those who sought to disrupt US-India relations.” “Today,” Royce added, “Congress repaid the Prime Minister’s bet.”



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