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US Congress okays nuke deal; rejects killer amendments
[ 27 Jul, 2006 0856hrs ISTTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]
WASHINGTON: The US House of Representatives on Wednesday passed landmark legislation approving the US-India nuclear agreement by a massive 359-68 margin, rejecting several 'killer amendments' on the way.
The House vote was largely bipartisan with backing from both sides of the aisle: 218 Republicans and 141 Democrats supported the deal, and only nine Republicans and 59 Democrats opposed it.
En route to the historic vote, the House rejected at least three 'killer' amendments which supporters said would have scupper the agreement.
An amendment that would have the US audit India's fissile material stock annually was rejected by a 155-268 margin.
Another amendment that would restrict export to uranium to India until the President certified that New Delhi had frozen its fissile material production was rejected 184-241.
When these two amendments were defeated, opponents of the agreement tried to link the deal to India further supporting US in its campaign against Iran.
But that too was defeated 192-235 by supporters who argued that New Delhi had already proved its credentials as a US partner opposed to nuclear proliferation in the Iran context.
About the only significant amendment that was passed without contest was one that enjoins the United States to only support India's civilian nuclear program, and not any nuclear weapons capability enhancement.
At the end of almost five hours of marathon arguments and legislative procedures, the United States and India Nuclear Cooperation Promotion Act of 2006, to be renamed the Hyde Amendment after the lawmaker who engineered it, was passed by a handsome 369-58 margin.
The Act will permit a certifiably nuclear-armed India India to buy reactors and fuel from the international market for the first time in more than 30 years (subject to final approval and international consent), despite the fact it has still not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
It will in effect mark the end of India's nuclear isolation and possibly arrange the global strategic architecture.
''We are at the hinge of history, building a fundamentally new relationship with India... historians will regard this as a tidal shift in ties between the U.S and India when Congress signaled definitively the end of the cold war paradigm,'' Tom Lantos (D-California) co-author of the legislation said while introducing the bill.
Indeed, historians will record many lawmakers who were instrumental in changing what New Delhi always argued was an unfair nuclear apartheid regime, but some legislators were front and center in the rousing debate.
Congressman Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey), Gary Ackerman (D-New York), Joseph Crowley (D- New York), Joe Wilson (R- South Carolina), Ed Royce (R-California) Nancy Pelosi (D- California), Eli Faleomavega (D- American Samoa) and Eliot Engel (D-New York) formed the core team of supporters for the agreement led by Henry Hyde (R-Illinois) and Tom Lantos (D-California). In the end, Republicans weighed in far greater numbers than the Democrats although the support was bipartisan.
Among those who vehemently opposed the agreement under one pretext or the other were Ed Markay (D-Massachusetts), Brad Sherman (D-California) and Howard Berman (D-California).
The House vote is a major step in the long legislative process that also requires a Senate approval and international okay (by the Nuclear Suppliers Group), But in the meantime, supporters of the agreement celebrated the win with gusto.
''The USINDIA FORUM congratulates every one who has provided support for this Bill. We call on members of the Indian American Community and their Organizations through out the country to Stay Focused on getting the legislations passed in similar manner in the US Senate also,'' Ashok Mago, a Dallas-based Indian-American convener of the forum said in a message, which claimed a 94 per cent vote from the Texas Congressional delegation.
The Washington D.C -centric USINPAC was also instrumental in rallying what turned out to be an overall 84 per cent Congressional support for the agreement.
The U.S.-India agreement on civil nuclear cooperation is an important manifestation of the growing strategic partnership between our two great democracies. Unfortunately, with less than 50 legislative days before Congress adjourns to pursue elections, the implementing legislation for this landmark agreement still languishes in committee. Time is running out. If not enacted before the congressional summer recess, the chances for ultimate passage will decrease precipitously.
The 2006 midterm elections promise to be some of the closest and most partisan on record. In such an atmosphere, prospects for getting Congress to concentrate on this needed legislation, even after elections, are dim indeed.
A chief delaying tactics by congressional opponents has been to seize on the argument that U.S. cooperation with India on civil nuclear matters will somehow make the world less safe from the scourge of nuclear terror. The reality is just the opposite. For 32 years, the United States has attempted to punish India for failing to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty with no discernable affect on Indian policy. Today, we have the opportunity to formulate a new policy, one that can secure India's cooperative efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons, strengthen democratic values and global security.
Some congressional opponents insist action in favor of implementation would remove a constraint on India's strategic weapons program. Their argument is that India has so little natural uranium that providing fissile material for civilian purposes will free up uranium for the Indians to make more nuclear weapons than they might otherwise. While simply put, the argument is simply wrong.
As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice correctly noted during her appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "[We] do not believe that the absence of uranium is really the constraint on the [Indian] nuclear weapons program." India has more than enough uranium both to support its weapons program and its present civil nuclear power program. India could even significantly expand its weapons program and make modest additions to its nuclear power program with its present uranium supplies.
It takes relatively little uranium to make a nuclear weapon, and India's present nuclear power program is so modest it could be expanded within India's existing supplies. As Dr. Ashley J. Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace notes in a soon-to-be-published paper, the Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency estimate India's reasonably assured assets of uranium at no less than 40,980 tons. A single 20 kiloton nuclear weapon only requires about 6 kilograms of plutonium, which can be produced using little more than 6 metric tons of uranium in a research reactor. India's entire present nuclear weapons program plus its power program plus its new reactors presently being built would require about 650 tons of uranium per year.
Thus, these Indian assets of uranium alone could continue India's program for more than 60 years, and India has reasonable prospects for even more. India has all the natural uranium it needs to produce as many nuclear weapons as it wishes plus an enhanced version of its present nuclear power for the foreseeable future.
The truth is India, in considering its strategic interest, will act in a manner consistent with its national security, with or without this agreement. It is unlikely to agree to limit its fissile material production unilaterally.
Should the U.S. Congress reject this agreement, it might make India's satisfaction of its growing energy needs more difficult, and force it to rely more on fossil fuels, thereby increasing harmful greenhouse gases. However, with this agreement India will work with the United States and others, in the words of Director General of the IAEA and Nobel Prize winner Mohammed ElBaradei, "to consolidate the nuclear nonproliferation regime, combat nuclear terrorism and strengthen nuclear safety."
For a safer world, Congress should act now.
William S. Cohen is chairman and chief executive officer of the Cohen Group and is a former defense secretary and U.S. senator from Maine.
Letters to the Editor Wall Street Journal June 12, 2006
My friend Sam Nunn is mistaken in his criticism of the Bush administration's nuclear agreement with India ("Nuclear Pig in a Poke1," editorial page, May 24).
Former Sen. Nunn and I have worked closely together to promote our shared nonproliferation goals, but he is wrong when he argues that Congress should impose additional conditions to the U.S.-India agreement.
First, if we do, we risk derailing an agreement that for the first time brings global transparency to India's entire civilian nuclear program. Right now, India's civilian and military programs remain closed to global scrutiny. Under this agreement, the entire civilian program, 65% of all nuclear activity and eventually 90%, will open to monitoring by the IAEA.
Second, with this agreement we bring India on board as an ally in our nonproliferation efforts in a critical part of the world where Iran and North Korea pose a real menace.
I consider that partnership vital to the future of our nonproliferation regime. We have spent 32 years negotiating with India over terms they will not accept. Without this partnership, we could spend another 30 years negotiating while India's program expands without scrutiny.
As Mohammad ElBaradei, director general of the IAEA and Nobel Prize winner has said, "It would bring India closer as an important partner in the non-proliferation regime. It would be a milestone, timely for ongoing efforts to consolidate the non-proliferation regime, combat nuclear terrorism and strengthen nuclear safety."
I believe this agreement can serve as a catalyst to strengthening an eroding nonproliferation regime, a regime that has brighter prospects with India than without her.
Sen. Pete V. Domenici, (R., N.M.) Washington
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Since its first nuclear explosion in 1974, India has generated an exemplary record of firmly controlling its nuclear materials and warding against proliferation.
In fact, India's record of nonproliferation is far superior to that of China, one of the five recognized nuclear powers. When the U.S. intercepted a shipment of centrifuges from Pakistan's A.Q. Khan destined for Libya, an earlier Chinese design of a nuclear weapon was discovered in the shipment. Apparently, Mr. Khan had thrown in a bonus. The Chinese actively assisted Pakistan in building its nuclear weapon capability. Ironically, China (as also the other four declared nuclear powers) is not subject to inspection of any sort by the IAEA.
Mr. Nunn tries to put India in the same league as North Korea and Iran. The Indo-U.S. nuclear deal has no relevance to the attempts to contain the nuclear ambitions of these two states. North Korea has traded its missile know-how for nuclear technology, at least with Pakistan. It is a paranoid and dangerous state that has a record of selling anything for hard cash. The Iranian state has been actively supporting various Islamist terrorist groups.
Mr. Nunn is being disingenuous in wanting Congress to require India to not produce fissile material henceforth. By signing the nuclear agreement, President Bush accepted the status of India as a de-facto nuclear power. There are no such legal restrictions on the production of fissile material by the five declared nuclear powers, and China has not officially ended production. The other undeclared nuclear powers, Israel and Pakistan, have no such limitations either. The five powers have been producing fissile material for quite a while.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006; The Washington Post, Page A23
In regard to nuclear proliferation and arms control, the fundamental problem is clear: Either we begin finding creative, outside-the-box solutions or the international nuclear safeguards regime will become obsolete.
For this reason, I have been calling for new approaches in a number of areas. First, a recommitment to disarmament -- a move away from national security strategies that rely on nuclear weapons, which serve as a constant stimulus for other nations to acquire them. Second, tightened controls on the proliferation-sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle. By bringing multinational control to any operation that enriches uranium or separates plutonium, we can lower the risk of these materials being diverted to weapons. A parallel step would be to create a mechanism to ensure a reliable supply of reactor fuel to bona fide users, including a fuel bank under control of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The third area has been more problematic: how to deal creatively with the three countries that remain outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT): Pakistan and India, both holders of nuclear arsenals, and Israel, which maintains an official policy of ambiguity but is believed to be nuclear-weapons-capable. However fervently we might wish it, none of these three is likely to give up its nuclear weapons or the nuclear weapons option outside of a global or regional arms control framework. Our traditional strategy -- of treating such states as outsiders -- is no longer a realistic method of bringing these last few countries into the fold.
Which brings us to a current controversy -- the recent agreement between President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh regarding the exchange of nuclear technology between the United States and India.
Some insist that the deal will primarily enable India to divert more uranium to produce more weapons -- that it rewards India for having developed nuclear weapons and legitimizes its status as a nuclear weapons state. By contrast, some in India argue that it will bring the downfall of India's nuclear weapons program, because of new restrictions on moving equipment and expertise between civilian and military facilities.
Clearly, this is a complex issue on which intelligent people can disagree. Ultimately, perhaps, it comes down to a balance of judgment. But to this array of opinions, I would offer the following:
First, under the NPT, there is no such thing as a "legitimate" or "illegitimate" nuclear weapons state. The fact that five states are recognized in the treaty as holders of nuclear weapons was regarded as a matter of transition; the treaty does not in any sense confer permanent status on those states as weapons holders. Moreover, the U.S.-India deal is neutral on this point -- it does not add to or detract from India's nuclear weapons program, nor does it confer any "status," legal or otherwise, on India as a possessor of nuclear weapons. India has never joined the NPT; it has therefore not violated any legal commitment, and it has never encouraged nuclear weapons proliferation.
Also, it is important to consider the implications of denying this exchange of peaceful nuclear technology. As a country with one-sixth of the world's population, India has an enormous appetite for energy -- and the fastest-growing civilian nuclear energy program in the world. With this anticipated growth, it is important that India have access to the safest and most advanced technology.
India clearly enjoys close cooperation with the United States and many other countries in a number of areas of technology and security. It is treated as a valued partner, a trusted contributor to international peace and security. It is difficult to understand the logic that would continue to carve out civil nuclear energy as the single area for noncooperation.
Under the agreement, India commits to following the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an organization of states that regulates access to nuclear material and technology. India would bring its civilian nuclear facilities under international safeguards. India has voiced its support for the conclusion of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. The strong support of both India and the United States -- as well as all other nuclear weapons states -- is sorely needed to make this treaty a reality.
The U.S.-India agreement is a creative break with the past that, handled properly, will be a first step forward for both India and the international community. India will get safe and modern technology to help lift more than 500 million people from poverty, and it will be part of the international effort to combat nuclear terrorism and rid our world of nuclear weapons.
As we face the future, other strategies must be found to enlist Pakistan and Israel as partners in nuclear arms control and nonproliferation. Whatever form those solutions take, they will need to address not only nuclear weapons but also the much broader range of security concerns facing each country. No one ever said controlling nuclear weapons was going to be easy. It will take courage and tenacity in large doses, a great deal more outside-of-the-box thinking, and a sense of realism. And it will be worth the effort.
The writer is director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He and the agency won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.
The independent Council on Foreign Relations is urging Congress to endorse a controversial civilian nuclear-power deal between the United States and India as soon as possible.
The council, in a report released Wednesday, recommends that lawmakers in both chambers pass sense-of-Congress resolutions supporting the basic framework and delay final approval until they are assured critical nuclear nonproliferation needs are met.
President Bush announced the nuclear deal during a trip to India in March, but the idea has been in the works since last summer. The agreement would allow India to import U.S. nuclear technology in exchange for opening its civilian nuclear facilities to international inspections. India’s nuclear-weapons program would remain secret.
The administration wants Congress to pass amendments to the 1954 Atomic Energy Act that would give India specific waivers. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would gain access to India’s civilian nuclear program. India would place two-thirds of its reactors and two-thirds of its generating power under permanent safeguards, with international verification.
But changes to the 1954 act are no small task, congressional sources say.
“The Atomic Energy Act is something you do not change lightly,” one aide said, adding, “nonproliferation policy is important.”
The council’s report comes at a time when supporters of the nuclear deal fear that changes in legislation required to implement it could be delayed during a packed pre-election calendar.
If Congress does not approve the deal, “it would damage the bilateral relationship,” the council concluded.
The Bush administration is pushing for congressional approval by the end of July, before the summer recess. But Senate and House consensus may not come until the end of the year, several sources indicated.
Neither the Senate Foreign Relations Committee nor the House International Relations Committee has scheduled any concrete dates to mark up legislation.
According to the US Indian Political Action Committee (USINPAC), the largest Indian-American PAC, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), International Relations chairman, said in a private meeting that he plans to mark up legislation before or on June 21. A congressional aide said that June 21 would be the target but that dates are fluid. The PAC has called approval of the deal its highest priority.
In a press release, USINPAC touted Hyde’s support for the deal: “His support is critical to the successful passage of the deal.”
But a Hyde spokeswoman said Hyde “has serious concerns regarding the proposed civil nuclear agreement.”
“The chairman reiterated his support for the president’s initiative in reaching an agreement with India, however he did tell [the] U.S.-India PAC that he will be working with the administration and Mr. [Tom] Lantos [D-Calif.] to craft a bipartisan piece of legislation that supports the president’s effort to strengthen ties with India,” said Kristi Garlock, Hyde’s committee spokeswoman.
Hyde is in the process of crafting his own bill, she added.
The Speaker of the House, Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), has expressed his full support for the U.S.-India agreement and has committed to bringing it to a resolution, said USINPAC’s chairman, Sanjay Puri, who met with Hastert recently.
“It is an important priority that has support, and we hope and expect to move legislation to the floor before the August recess,” said Kevin Madden, spokesman for House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). But Madden added: “No decisions have been made about when it will be considered on the floor calendar yet.”
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said he is relying on Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, “to take care of it in the committee.” Lugar backs the accord but indicated that he may seek to add some conditions.
“I think it is certainly the intent of the president and the Senate for [the legislation] to pass sometime this year,” said Andy Fisher, spokesman for the committee.
But the Senate has a crowded schedule, debating a constitutional ban on gay marriage, a flag-burning amendment and a tax package with wide, bipartisan opposition. The Senate also has to consider the 2007 defense authorization bill, and both the House and the Senate still have to deal with the 2006 emergency supplemental.
“There is a concern that the agenda might cloud this issue out,” Puri said. “Congress has a lot to do, and that is a big concern. The business of the nation needs to go on.”
A few more Democrats than Republicans oppose the deal, a lobbyist working on it said. Even so, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has indicated her support.
While the issue is not expected to become a partisan fight, Democrats are not willing to give Bush “carte blanche,” a congressional aide said.
The administration initially proposed that Congress pre-approve the deal before the United States negotiated it with India, the aide said. Pre-approval would waive parts of the Atomic Energy Act once the president certified that India would make the necessary changes, the aide explained.
“The problem is that the administration’s initial proposal was to enunciate some general principles and for Congress [to] pre-approve [those],” the aide said. After the initial pre-approval, Congress would have a chance to overturn the deal, but only with a two-thirds vote.
“It is complicated procedurally,” the aide said.
The administration is eager to move ahead, the aide said.
“They think some indication of congressional support is going to make a difference in terms of what they are going to do with the Indians,” the aide said. “The Indians have some tough decisions to make, and the idea is that if Congress is going to do something they will be likely to make the changes.”
Fearing that the agreement may not have enough congressional support to alter radically 30 years of U.S. policy to punish India for developing nuclear weapons in the ’70s, Lantos, the ranking member of the House panel, proposed a compromise intended to keep the agreement alive. Congress would commit to approving it under expedited procedures but would only formally change U.S. law after lawmakers review the completed agreement and the IAEA safeguards accord.
Lantos is circulating his proposal in the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over the matter.
USINPAC lobbies prominent US lawmaker to back US-India Nuclear Deal
Washington, Jun 8: A prominent US lawmaker has backed the US-India nuclear deal and said he is for a stronger relations between the two countries.
The decision of Henry Hyde, the Republican Chairman of the International Relations Committee of the House of Representatives, is said to have been made known in a private meeting with the US India Political Action Committee, a USINPAC release said.
The powerful Chair of the House Committee is also reported to have stated that he is "confident the bill will pass and is willing to push it through".
"I am for a stronger US-India relations and I understand that India is in a very dangerous neighbourhood and energy self sufficiency is very important to them," Hyde is reported to have remarked, the release said.
Washington: The US-India civil nuclear energy deal is a "real-world agreement" that may not be perfect, but will prove to be a "net gain for non-proliferation", said a top state department official here.
US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher underlined the breathtaking potential of the deal to transform India-US ties across the board.
"If we can do nuclear power, we can do anything together. The advantages of such a relationship for regional stability and for the future of over a billion people are many," he told the Asia-Pacific committee of the House International Relations Panel here Wednesday.
"It will secure their increasing conviction that there is solid support from the US government for long-term civil nuclear cooperation and thereby open the door to cooperation across the board," he stressed.
Boucher's presentation to the panel, titled "The US and South Asia: An expanding agenda", made an appeal to the Congress to clear the deal that can take the "US-India relationship to heights we have never previously achieved".
"I think we'd all be happy if India and Pakistan gave up their nuclear weapons and joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty. (But) It's not going to happen," Boucher said.
"We went into this negotiation knowing the positions that India had taken all along. This is a real-world agreement. We don't claim it's perfect," he said.
He also sought to correct the impression that the US had given away "too much" in the agreement and claimed that the deal provided "a net gain for non-proliferation" as India has already taken a series of steps to bring itself in "alignment with the international non-proliferation regime".
"They have improved their export control systems, brought their standards into alignment with the practices of the Nuclear Suppliers Group already. They have pledged to support negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty.
"They have begun their discussions with the International Atomic Energy Agency," he said in response to a question.
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