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US lawmaker backs N-deal as Cong mulls changes

Written by: Staff

Washington, Apr 5: A leading Democratic lawmaker has voiced strong support for a landmark nuclear energy deal with India and predicted the US Congress would eventually approve the controversial accord.

California Rep. Tom Lantos, in an interview with Reuters yesterday, said lawmakers are discussing possible amendments to the accord, which would let India buy foreign nuclear energy reactors, fuel and other technology for the first time in 30 years and underscore a historic new US-India partnership.

''I will urge my colleagues that while we need to be fully aware of all the shortcomings, and we have to do everything in our power to rectify those, that is the wrong prism through which to view the agreement,'' said the senior Democrat on the House of Representatives International Relations Committee.

With the United States and India moving towards an historic partnership, the agreement is ''a breakthrough, and on balance, clearly in the US national interest,'' Lantos added.

He spoke as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prepared to defend the agreement today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House International Relations Committee.

Lantos and other congressional sources said Rice's testimony would be key to rebutting criticism from non-proliferation experts that has jeopardized the pact.

Changes in US law and international rules are necessary for the agreement to go forward.

Rice ''can make an enormous difference in gaining support for the legislation,'' Lantos said. Asked if he expected the deal to eventually pass, he replied: ''I do.'' But Ron Somers, president of the US-India Business Council, was concerned about amendments.

''If too many conditions are added or if the deal starts getting tinkered with, it could unravel very quickly and the overall deal could collapse,'' Somers told Reuters.

''This would be devastating to the overall trust and partnership'' between the two countries, he added.

Lantos said he has seen a list of proposed ''improvements'' to the deal but declined to elaborate.

''I am very strongly in favor of maximum congressional oversight within a realistic framework, but we can't tell our negotiators to go back to the Indians and obtain concessions,'' Lantos said.

Neither side got all it wanted, he added.

After the agreement was concluded last July, Lantos warned the deal could be in jeopardy if New Delhi did not help pressure Iran to halt its nuclear program. The West accuses Iran of seeking weapons; Tehran says it is pursuing atomic energy.

India sided with the United States, Europe and other states in key votes of the International Atomic Energy Agency board finding Iran in non-compliance with international obligations and reporting its case to the UN Security Council.

But India last month raised US eyebrows by hosting a port visit by two Iranian navy ships. Lantos said he discussed this with Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and is ''satisfied no substantive naval training took place.'' But Lantos also told Saran ''the symbolism (of the ship visit) was all wrong'' and said India must not only avoid ''negative symbolism'' but cooperate with the United States whenever possible.

Meanwhile, non-proliferation experts, in a letter to lawmakers.

proposed that Congress only permit nuclear transfers after the United States certifies India has stopped producing fissile material.

If after five years this condition is not met, then nuclear transfers should proceed, they said, arguing this would at least temporarily reduce the chance of a South Asia arms race.


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