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Lantos forwards civilian nuclear deal with India to Congress

Written by: Staff
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Washington, May 11 (UNI) Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, said the US Congress should give its approval to the US-India civilian nuclear agreement only after India puts in place the IAEA safeguards over its civilian nuclear reactors.

He told the House International Relations Committee that he was introducing a new legislation, incorporating these two proposals so as to ''give a new momentum in the US Congress to the civilian nuclear agreement between India.'' ''I propose that we vote on the bilateral agreement for cooperation only after negotiations are completed and the India-IAEA safeguards agreement is finalised,'' Mr Lantos said, adding '' but it would not immediately make all of the major legislative changes to the Atomic Energy Act sought by the administration and necessary to implement this agreement.

The legislation also ''expressed the sense of the Congress that nonproliferation and Non-Proliferation Treaty are cornerstones of US foreign policy, that peaceful nuclear cooperation with countries that are not parties to the Treaty may still be in the interest of the United States and in the interest of our nonproliferation policy if such countries meet certain criteria; and that India meets these criteria.'' ''I firmly believe that this is the best way, given the situation in Congress, to make important progress in moving the US-India nuclear initiative forward,'' he added.

Democratic Rep Howard Berman announced plans to introduce amendments to the administration bill, including a demand that Congress retain the right to approve the nuclear cooperation agreement by a majority vote. Congressman Edward Markey told the hearing that the administration's approach would water down dilute the enhanced scrutiny Congress envisioned for such agreements.

The Bush administration has, on the other hand, argued the deal would strengthen non-proliferation efforts by putting the majority of India's nuclear plants under international inspections.

It was echoed again at the hearing yesterday by Congressman Jim Kolbe, an Arizona Republican. He said, ''If Congress enacts this legislation, India will have a tougher nuclear scrutiny than is given to China, to Russia, to other major nuclear powers.

None of these countries' reactors are under an inspection regime.

India would place at least two-thirds of its programme under the direct eye of the International Atomic Energy Agency.'' Meanwhile, State Department Counselor Philip Zelikow has defended the deal, saying Washington has a host of reasons for pursuing it, but containing China is not one of them.

He told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute yesterday that he believes Congress will eventually approve the accord.

''I think a lot of the argument will be about what conditions people should attempt to place on it, and what the timing will be. We have some opinions about what the timing should be and what conditions should be placed on it, so that this deal still accomplishes its central objectives. We think it will go through,'' he said.

The US official said the Bush administration's top priority in wanting to conclude the agreement is to establish better ties with India and bring the South Asian nation ''into the non-proliferation community''.

UNI

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