US lawmakers raise questions on India nuclear deal

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Washington, Oct 5: A nonbinding resolution introduced in the US House of Representatives questions whether the proposed US-India civil nuclear agreement complies with US law. While the resolution has no legal effect, it reflects misgivings among some lawmakers about the deal, which would give India access to US nuclear fuel and equipment for the first time in 30 years even though New Delhi has tested nuclear weapons and has refused to join nonproliferation agreements.

The US Congress in December approved a law -- called the ''Hyde Act'' -- laying out a framework for the detailed civil nuclear cooperation deal the United States and India concluded this past summer.

The deal is controversial in India, where it is opposed by the Communist allies of the government led by the Congress Party. The two sides agreed to form a panel to study the deal, which the left believes compromises India's sovereignty.

The agreement is also subject to three further hurdles.

India must reach an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to place its civilian nuclear reactors under UN safeguards and it must get clearance from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group that governs global civilian nuclear trade.

After those steps, the agreement must be approved once again by the US Congress.

''It remains to be determined if the nuclear cooperation agreement is fully consistent with the Hyde Act,'' said the resolution introduced by Rep Howard Berman, a California Democrat, and by Republican Reps Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska yesterday.

The resolution urges the Bush administration to answer questions about what it called ''apparent inconsistencies'' between the agreement and the Hyde Act and to resolve with India ''all differences of interpretation'' on the deal.

One point of contention is the Hyde Act requirement that the United States cut off nuclear exports to India if it tests another nuclear weapon. The US-India agreement does not make that explicit, but rather gives either side the right to end the pact for any reason with one year's notice.

The resolution also urged the Bush administration to insist that the Nuclear Suppliers Group agree to cut off all nuclear trade with India if New Delhi conducted another nuclear test -- despite the fact that is not explicitly spelled out in the US-India deal.

Questions from congress

The resolution suggested that if other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group adopted less stringent controls on their nuclear trade with India than those of the United States, American companies would be at a competitive disadvantage.

''If there are two standards, one for the United States -- the Hyde Act -- and the other for all the other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, India will end up dealing with all the other countries and not the United States and we will be shut out of the very cooperation that we pioneered,'' Berman told Reuters.

Analysts believe the deal will ultimately win the support of Congress, where many members want to help US companies win business in India and to cultivate the Indian-American lobby.

Sharon Squassoni, a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace nonproliferation expert, said she viewed the resolution as a way for some members of Congress to raise concerns and to try to get the Nuclear Suppliers Group to address some things they did not like in the India-US agreement.

''The purpose of putting this resolution out there is, I think, to put the Nuclear Suppliers Group on notice that Congress has some questions,'' she said.

She said it was uncertain whether the resolution would attract much support in Congress and said Rep Tom Lantos, the California Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was ''conspicuously absent'' from its sponsors.


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