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N-deal may be done soon
Published on 27 Sep. 2008 1:28 AM IST
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Even as the US Congress grapples with the nation’s worst financial crisis it may yet approve the India-US nuclear deal soon with a key lawmaker giving up his insistence on riders unacceptable to India. The India bill may now come up for vote in the House of Representatives and in the full Senate in the next couple of days as the lawmakers work through the weekend to deal with the Bush administration’s $700 billion bail-out plan to save the US financial system. The Congress was earlier scheduled to break Friday for the Nov 4 elections. The House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Howard Berman, agreed to go with the approval bill endorsed 19-2 by the Senate panel after calls from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met President George Bush Thursday. Though the bill could not be passed by Congress before their meeting, Bush assured the Indian leader “we’re working hard to get it passed as quickly as possible”.Describing the deal as one sign of a “good, strong strategic relationship with India”, he said: “It has taken a lot of work on both our parts, a lot of courage on your part, and of course we want the agreement to satisfy you and get it out of our Congress.” Both the new Berman version and the Senate panel version make implementing the 123 Agreement subject to the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act, the Hyde Act and any other applicable US laws, but contrary to the general impression there is no explicit reference to “testing”. Both bills only affirm “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” in the event of US terminating the 123 agreement for violation of the US laws. While the US Atomic Energy Act provides for automatic termination of nuclear cooperation agreements under Section 123, Section 129 of the same law also gives the president authority to issue a waiver on grounds of national security. India has all along maintained that it would be bound only by its 123 agreement. This too provides for consultations that would “take into account whether the circumstances that may lead to termination or cessation resulted from a Party’s serious concern about a changed security environment or as a response to similar actions by other States which could impact national security.” One reason why the Bush administration went to great lengths to persuade Berman was that if the versions passed by Senate and House are not identical, a select committee has to meet in a “conference” to reconcile them before Bush can sign in it into law and get the deal done.

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