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N-deal's Senate date only in September

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August 01, 2006 00:56 IST

With members of the United States Senate preparing to go on recess by weekend, a bill on implementing the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal would be taken up only after Congress reconvenes in the first week of September.

Soon after House or Representatives passed with an overwhelming 359 to 68 majority its version of a bill to implement the deal, it was believed that the Senate could be persuaded to take up its measure before it went home for the summer. But Senate Bill S 3709 -- United States India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act -- will have to wait for now.

White House had reportedly tried hard to get Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to schedule the bill this week. "We have no indication from the Majority Leader that it (the Senate legislation) will be scheduled prior to recess," a senior Senate aide to PTI on Monday.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar and leading Senators John Cornyn (Texas) and Ben Nelson (Nebraska) had said recently that from the point of view of scheduling the bill will not be taken up before summer recess.

But scheduling is only one of the problems, as there are persisting objections to the bill from some leading Senators. They want Lugar to find another vehicle to tag his Additional Protocol Agreement between the US and International Atomic Energy Agency, which he had attached to the India legislation, something that has irked his colleagues.

Congressional sources told PTI that objections to the bill will persist from a handful of Senators and criticism may intensify on sanctions imposed on two Indian firms for illegal missile-related trade with Iran. Some House of Representatives members have slammed Bush Administration for not revealing this information prior to the July 26 vote.

Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan (North Dakota), in a recent speech in the Senate, slammed the proposed legislation and called its provisions and the manner in which it was presented to Congress as 'one of the most significant mistakes' he can conceive of.

Some conservatives are irked at the second part of the legislation 'S 3709,' which is described as aiming to 'exempt India from certain requirements of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 United States exports of nuclear materials, equipment and technology to India and to Implement the United States Additional Protocol'

The opponents do not want the 'tag' about implementing the US Additional Protocol to come as part of this India-specific bill, though such tags are routine part of the legislative process in the US.

"With the Additional Protocol in it, this India legislation is not going anywhere. The opposition is just too strong," said a Congressional source, adding Lugar has to look for another vehicle to get it through.

Inclusion of the Additional Protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which relates to application of safeguards in the US, in the bill has made Conservative Senators uneasy on the impact of this to nuclear research facilities including the cost factor.

"It may be that if there are research facilities in the private sector which may be doing nuclear research or related to that or dual use implications and Senators are wary of the impact of submitting these facilities to the additional protocol," remarked a source.

The Bush Administration is aware of the substantive and the procedural roadblocks in the Senate to the bill on the Indo-US nuclear deal, but is confident that the upper house can vote on the legislation sometime in September after it reconvenes. It also believes that substantive portions to which there is difficulty in both Washington and New Delhi can be worked on and resolved at the Conference Committee stage between the House and the Senate.

The formalisation of the civilian nuclear deal between the US and India is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Sridhar Krishnaswami in Washington
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