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US to build consensus on nuclear accord

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    Washington, Apr 4: The US administration would work to ''build a level of consensus on the nuclear agreement'' even though it had generated some concern on Capitol Hill, a State Department spokesman said here.

    On the eve of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's testimony before US Congress on the US-India civilian nuclear deal yesterday Deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said, ''We want to ensure all their questions are answered and that there is strong support for what the President sees as a major initiative that is both good for nonproliferation and good for the region.'' The deal would be good for ''our partner'' India and for American commercial interests, he added.

    ''Ms Rice and other top administrative officials have been lobbying with the lawmakers for weeks to explain this deal, to address concerns and to build the level of consensus and understanding that we hope will see this bold and positive initiative through to fruition,'' he said.

    Mr Ereli said,''The Secretary's testimony tomorrow is a fairly intensive effort to work with the members of the Hill, respond to their questions, answer their concerns, and explain why this is a good deal that's in America's interests.'' Ms Rice is set to testify on the deal before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) tomorrow morning and before the House International Relations Committee (HIRC) the same evening.

    Mr Ereli mentioned that besides Ms Rice, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary Robert Joseph, Assistant Secretary Stephen Rademacher, Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher and other experts from the White House have been up on Capitol Hill over the past several months to explain the intricacies of the deal and garner support for it.

    The administration in its legislation sent to the Senate and the House has asked the Congress to exempt India from US laws that restrict trade with countries, such as India, that have not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).

    Asked whether ''this intensive lobbying reflects, some uncertainty, some concern'' over the outcome of the deal, Mr Ereli said ''this intensive program of briefing and consultations reflects, first and foremost, is a recognition that Congress has an important and necessary role to play in this initiative.''

    To a specific question on whether the deal contributes to slowing down proliferation Mr Ereli said, ''It brings Indian civilian facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards and negotiations or talks with the IAEA is a part of this deal.'' He also rejected the notion that the administration cut the deal with India to help build up the world's largest democracy as a counterweight to a rising China.

    ''The driving force behind this was to bring a nuclear program under international safeguards and to help India develop its energy sector in a way that was consistent with both nonproliferation concerns as well as contribute to international stability and international investment,'' he added.

    A key provision in the agreement as approved last month by US President George W Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would lift a thirty-year ban on India and allow it to buy foreign-made nuclear reactors if it opens its civilian facilities to international inspection.

    ''India can be trusted,'' Mr Burns, who played a role in the negotiations, has said time and again at various forums.

    However, Congress remains divided over the nuclear deal as nonproliferation experts fear that it will allow India to accelerate its nuclear weapons programme. Some others have raised concerns that the deal could promote a regional arms race with China and Pakistan and make it more difficult for the US to win support for sanctions against such countries as Iran and North Korea.

    The US administration officials had rejected this saying India, which espouses a policy of minimal deterrence, is unlikely to spark a South Asia arms race.

    Last week India's Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, who was in Washington for talks on the deal, assured lawmakers that India will neither boost its nuclear arsenal nor unleash an arms race just because it had signed the deal with the US. He had reminded them that India's nuclear policy has been one of ''restraint and responsibility.''

    UNI

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