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US Admin may amend laws to give effect to nuke deal with India

By Staff
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Washington, Feb 23 (UNI) The US Administration could introduce legislation in both Houses of the Congress on Monday to amend the country's laws to give effect to the civil nuclear deal with India, just days ahead of President George Bush's visit to the sub-continent from March 1, if last-minute talks between the two sides in Delhi to iron out differences in the implementation of the landmark accord succeed.

Diplomatic sources told UNI here today that US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, who is in the Indian capital for talks with Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran on the contentious issue of the separation of India's civil and military nuclear programmes, required under the deal, was expected to return here by the weekend.

If the talks succeed in sorting out the differences, there are chances that the Administration could introduce legislation in both the House of Representatives and the Senate simultaneously on Monday when they reconvene after a week's break, the sources said.

Given the fact that some hearings on the issue have already been held, the sources felt that the legislation would be referred without much delay to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Committee on International Relations. They expected the amendments to be passed in about a month or so.

Diplomats and South Asia experts said President Bush would have to make quite a few telephone calls and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other members of the Bush cabinet would have to make active efforts to ensure that the legislation gets Congress approval.

The US would then have to take the issue to the Nuclear Suppliers Group to change its rules to enable nuclear commerce with India.

This is expected to happen in May, the sources said.

The initiative on civil nuclear cooperation was the centre-piece of the Joint Statement issued by the two countries after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's historic summit meeting with President Bush here on July 18 last year.

The two leaders will review the implementation of the accord when they meet in India on March 2.

Under the agreement, the US had said that India, as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology, should acquire the same benefits and advantages as other such states.

The US agreed to seek agreement from the Congress to adjust US laws and policies and also work with its friends and allies to adjust international regimes to enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India. On its part, India agreed to, among other steps, separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities in a phased manner and voluntarily place them under IAEA safeguards.

The deal, which would lift a 30-year ban on nuclear commerce between the two countries, must be approved by the US Congress to bring about changes in America's strict non-proliferation laws and also changes in the rules of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Less than a week before he leaves for India and Pakistan on his first visit to the region, Mr Bush on Wednesday publicly urged Delhi to come up with a "credible, transparent and defensible plan" to separate its civilian and military nuclear programmes.

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