A key United States Senate panel will consider a bill to 'mark up' the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, a second major hurdle to cross for the approval of the landmark agreement.
The 18-member Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote whether to make exemptions in the 1954 Atomic Energy Act to enable the US to sell nuclear fuel and technology in return for non-proliferation and safeguard commitments from India.
In his opening remarks to the Senate Committee, released hours before the sitting, its chairman Richard Lugar said the landmark deal was the 'most important strategic initiative' undertaken by the Bush administration which provides the country 'new diplomatic options' to ensure global stability.
He said by concluding this pact and the far-reaching set of cooperative agreements that accompany it, US President George W Bush has embraced a long-term outlook that seeks to enhance the core strength of US foreign policy in a way that will give them new diplomatic options and improve global stability.
The Republican senator also outlined provisions of the bill, which in his view significantly strengthened the proposals that were first advanced by the administration, especially as it related to Congressional oversight and procedures.
Noting that the deal allows India to access nuclear fuel, technology and reactors from the US, which were previously denied as New Delhi did not ratify the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Lugar said Washington will ensure that the civilian nuclear agreement would not undercut its responsibilities under the Treaty.
"[The] agreement can be a lasting incentive for India to abstain from further nuclear weapons tests and to cooperate closely with the United States in stopping proliferation," Lugar said.
"India's votes at the IAEA on the Iran issue in September and February demonstrate that New Delhi is able and willing to adjust its traditional foreign policies and play a constructive role on international issues," he added.
Lugar and Ranking Member Joseph Biden will introduce the bill in the Senate Committee.
"The Lugar-Biden bill gives important authorities to the administration to negotiate with India, but our legislation does not restrict or predetermine Congressional action on the forthcoming 123 Agreement. Congress will have to approve this subsequent agreement before it goes into force," Lugar said.
"The Lugar-Biden bill, unlike the administration's original legislative proposal, preserves Congressional prerogatives with regard to the 123 Agreement.
"Under the administration's original proposal, the 123 Agreement would have entered into force 90 days after submission unless both houses of Congress voted against it and then overcame a likely Presidential veto. I am pleased the administration changed course on this matter and agreed to submit the 123 Agreement with India to Congress under normal procedures," he said.
"This means that both the House and the Senate must cast a positive vote of support before the 123 Agreement can enter into force. In our view, this fully protects Congressional role in the process and ensures Congressional views will be taken into consideration," the chairman said.Lugar also pointed out that the Senate legislation has sought to ensure that important export control and non-proliferation efforts remain strong and consistent.