U.S. Congress considering legislation to allow deal to proceed
By David Shelby
March 20, 2006
Washington - The Bush administration is encouraged by the initial response it has received from members of Congress on the proposed U.S.-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns says.
The pact was signed by President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during Bush's visit to India in early March.
Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives introduced legislation March 16 that would exempt India from certain restrictions on the export of U.S. nuclear technology. Both houses must pass this legislation, and the final bill must be signed by the president, before the deal can proceed.
"This is going to be a somewhat lengthy process. It's likely to take several months because that's the way the American process works," Burns told reporters at a briefing in Washington March 16. But he added, "We are encouraged by the number of members of the Senate and the House who have spoken out publicly in favor of this agreement."
Burns said the administration respects Congress' right to demand comprehensive briefings on the agreement and said all administration officials who have dealt with the issue are prepared to testify "so that we can spell out in some detail exactly what has been agreed to and what the ramifications of this might be for the nonproliferation regime and for our relations with other countries."
The under secretary said that most members of Congress have reserved judgment on the agreement given that it marks a significant departure from three decades of conventional thinking about the international nuclear nonproliferation regime. But in discussions with members of Congress over the past two weeks, he said, he has heard support for the administration's efforts to tackle a difficult issue: "how to have a functioning and effective nonproliferation system, and include in that this very large country that has a nuclear power industry and wants to expand the nuclear power industry."
Burns maintained that the agreement actually will strengthen the nonproliferation regime because India has committed to put all current and future civilian nuclear facilities under permanent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. He said India also has agreed to strengthen its export controls on sensitive technologies.
India has a history of respecting nonproliferation norms, Burns added.
"[A] lot of countries around the world have a lot of experience with India in the nuclear realm, and of course a lot of countries have taken a close look at India's record on nonproliferation," he said. "And the consensus that I hear talking to most of the members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group is that we all agree on one thing: India, while it's been outside the NPT [nuclear nonproliferation treaty], has conformed to a lot of the practices of the countries inside the NPT."
Burns dismissed the idea that India would use the deal to expand its nuclear arsenal, arguing that the majority of Indian investment would be in the civilian nuclear power industry.
If Congress adopts legislation allowing the deal to move forward, the administration will have to seek the approval of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for India to engage in trade of nuclear-related materials with NSG members. The NSG is a group of 45 nuclear supplier countries that seeks to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons by implementing guidelines for trade in nuclear materials.
Burns noted that several members of the NSG already have expressed support for the deal. He added that India is the only country that merits exceptional treatment from the NSG because of its history of respect for nonproliferation norms.