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Indo-US nuke deal draft proposal submitted to Congress
Aziz Haniffa in Washington | March 10, 2006 12:01 IST
The Bush administration on Thursday submitted a draft proposal to the Congressional leadership in both the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate and the International Relations Committee of House in the hope that it will help shape legislation that can be formulated to envisage the passage of the US-India civilian nuclear agreement reached by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on March 2 in New Delhi.
The key components of the Administration's proposal, made available to rediff.com, were that Congress either waive or exempt India from the requirements of the Atomic Energy Act that currently bars nuclear technology and duel-use items trade with countries that do not accept full-scope safeguards on its nuclear facilities.
The administration has requested Congress that it would like lawmakers to act on this before the end of May, because at this time the US would like to bring to Nuclear Suppliers Group a proposal to exempt India from the NSG's current guidelines. These – as required by the US Atomic Energy Act and something that the US itself got included in the NSG rules—bar nuclear trade with states that do not accept full-scope safeguards.
India currently is barred from receiving such nuclear technology because it has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Congressional sources said the Administration's rationale for pushing for this exemption in the legislation, which some lawmakers who favour this agreement would introduce, would be the separation plan it recently negotiated with India. This plan was announced during the President's trip to India, whereby India has agreed to put 14 of its 22 nuclear reactors on the civilian list and under full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.
But these sources said that 'we are still studying the details of the plan and not all of them have been submitted to us. It's going to take several more briefings before we are assured of its credibility, which has to precede any legislation'.
Another component of the administration proposal was for Congressional approval of a US-India nuclear cooperation agreement, but sources said this is not something that could be rushed through. It would also require many briefings and hearings before this prerequisite for any exemption to be granted to a nation can be voted on.
The Administration's rationale for such an agreement is because it would exempt India from other sections of the Atomic Energy Act that could complicate nuclear trade between the two countries even if India is exempted from Section 123(a)(2) of the AEA, which bars trade with a country that does not accept full-scope international safeguards.
But what the sources said would make the proposal tough to push through quickly was the Administration's contention to treat this agreement for nuclear cooperation as a 'non-exempted' agreement, would would in a sense preclude Congressional oversight and go into effect automatically if there was no counter-legislation to block approval of the agreement.
An 'exempted' agreement, which doesn't become law unless approved by both the House and Senate, also has no deadline like a 'non-exempted' agreement of 90 days, where unless blocked during this time period, it automatically becomes law.
One Congressional source told rediff.com, "This is quite a stretch by the administration, in a sense trying to take away from us the leverage we have in terms of setting the terms of the agreement. As also the ability of reviewing the agreement and determining at any point of time if it needs to be continued or terminated or suspended."
"What the administration is subtly attempting here with this effort to push through a 'non-exempted' agreement is to take away the prerogative of Congress that it has when it approves an 'exempted' agreement," the source complained. "Essentially, they are trying to take away Congressional oversight."
According to the source, 'even 'exempted' agreements, in the best of times, with countries that accept full-scope safeguards, take over a year, so this kind of effort to make us rush through a 'non-exempted' agreement is presumptious to say the least'.
The sources also said that the determinations the administration refers to have to be carried out before the exemption to the AEA can be made, and argued that those mentioned in the administration's proposal have yet to begin.
The determinations by the President are that the following actions have occurred:
The proposal notes that all of these determinations will in effect, be null and void, 'if the President determines that India has detonated a nuclear explosive device after the date of enactment of this Act'.