A civilian nuclear deal between the United States and India, the
subject of controversy since proposed by President Bush in 2005, is
poised for final approval in the U.S House of Representatives. VOA's
Dan Robinson reports, opponents in and outside of Congress made last
minute efforts to block it, while supporters said approval could not
wait until a new U.S. president takes office.
With the Bush
administration pressing for action before Congress adjourns, the House
debated a version of the legislation approved this past week by the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The agreement was the
subject of long and intense negotiations between the White House and
Congress, in particular Democratic Representative Howard Berman who
chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
During debate on the
measure late Friday, he discussed what he called a personal commitment
made to him by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. "That in a change in
policy, the U.S will make its highest priority at the November meeting
of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the achievement of a decision by all of
the nuclear suppliers to prohibit the export of enrichment and
reprocessing equipment and technology to states that are not members of
the treaty on nonproliferation," he said.
President Bush had
hoped to win congressional approval before India's Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh came to the White House this past week.
president referred to it as he welcomed the Indian leader, calling the
agreement one sign of a good strong strategic relationship. "This 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 to get it out of
our Congress so we are working hard to get it passed as quickly as
possible," he said.
Opponents say the agreement will undermine
nonproliferation efforts and make it more difficult to dissuade other
countries not to develop nuclear weapons.
"Approval of this
agreement undermines our efforts to dissuade countries like Iran and
North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. By approving this
agreement, all we are doing is creating incentives for other countries
to withdraw from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty," said Barbara
Lee, a California Democrat.
Democrat Edward Markey said it fails
to meet even minimal nonproliferation conditions Congress has required,
and poses unacceptable risks to U.S. security and the nuclear
nonproliferation regime. "By breaking the rules for India, we are
making it less likely that the rules will hold against Iran or anyone
else. Iran is looking at this deal for India and they're saying "where
can I sign up?"
Since conducting its first nuclear weapons test
in 1974, India has refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty,
something critics say should happen before India gets full access to
global nuclear trade.
Supporters say the agreement recognizes
what they call India's responsible handling of its nuclear program,
helps nonproliferation by subjecting more than half of India's 22
reactors to monitoring, and assists India's development of a clean
"The IAEA (International Atomic Energy
Agency) will be able to inspect two thirds of India's civlian nuclear
facilities, because those facilities will be under IAEA safeguards and
all future civliian nuclear facilities will also be under safeguards,"
said New York Democrat Gary Ackerman.
Last week, opponents made
last minute efforts to persuade lawmakers not to vote for the
agreement. At a briefing in the U.S. Capitol, Daryl Kimball, who heads
the Arms Control Association, called it flawed.
"It does not
clearly resolve the inconsistency between the 123 agreement that was
initialed last August 2007 and the Henry Hyde Act which established the
terms and conditions under which the U.S. can engage in nuclear trade,"
The description of the U.S-India accord as a 123
agreement refers to a section of the 1954 U.S. Atomic Energy Act. The
U.S. has some two dozen such 123 agreements with various countries.
Robert Grey, a former U.S. representative to the Conference on
Disarmament, urges lawmakers to take more time to review the agreement.
is a bad deal that we are getting into here in terms of
nonproliferation. We created the nonproliferation regime, we got it
through the international community. We supported it consistently over
successive administrations, both Republican and Democrat. Now we have
reversed course. We are opening a hole with this agreement with India
that you could drive a truck through," he said.
A decision by
the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which sets rules for
international nuclear trade, lifting a prohibition on India's access to
global nuclear trade paved the way for congressional approval.
NSG decision represents the will of the international community to make
the rules conform to the realities of India's energy situation,"
Republican Ed Royce.
The House of Representatives will take a
final recorded vote on the U.S. - India agreement on Saturday. If
approved as expected, it would go to the U.S. Senate where supporters
expect it to win bipartisan approval.