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'Bush's difficulties with N-deal lie at home'

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March 03, 2006 12:17 IST

A mix of caution and elation -- that sums up the reaction among Congressional leaders in both the US Senate and House of Representatives to the US-India civilian nuclear agreement.

In interviews with and in statements issued by their offices, the US lawmakers said they would eagerly await the Administration to come up on Capitol Hill with its proposal to rewrite current US laws that requires Congressional approval.

The chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican, who is key to the deal either being accepted or rejected, according to his senior aide Mark Helmke was said to be 'looking forward to learning more about the details of the progress made on the nuclear power agreement with India and getting a draft legislation from the Bush Administration.'

The top Democrat on the Committee, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, said, 'The project to bring India into a new relationship with the international nuclear nonproliferation regime is laudable.'

He acknowledged that 'India is a rising power and a great democracy, and it is unrealistic to expect it to renounce its nuclear weapons program at this time.'

But Biden expressed concern over the statement by the chief Bush Administration negotiator, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, that the agreement 'will not have an impact on India's nuclear weapons program.'

He said, 'Congress must examine the agreement in detail to evaluate its implications for nuclear nonproliferation. The bottom line question is: does this deal make us more secure, or less secure?'

Biden said it is imperative that the Administration 'show Congress it will make us more secure by bringing India into closer compliance with international nonproliferation norms, that it will not assist India's nuclear weapons program in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and that it will not cause other countries to question their own commitment to nonproliferation because of a perceived double standard on our part.'

Congressman Henry Hyde, Illinois Republican and chairman of the House International Relations Committee, while welcoming what he described as 'the further strengthening of US-India cooperation,' said, 'Implementing this agreement will require legislative approval.'

He pointed out that 'it is the responsibility of this Committee to thoroughly examine the specific provisions of this agreement and its consequences for US interests and those of the international community.'

Congressman Tom Lantos, the seniormost Democrat on the panel said that 'a reliable and dependable strategic partnership is in the interest of both out great countries,' and acknowledged that this agreement 'could herald an even closer relationship between the United States and India.'

But at the same time, he noted that 'given the unprecedented nature of this agreement, the Congress will have to carefully evaluate the details of the separation plan to assure ourselves and our international partners that this agreement will indeed support our political and security objectives.'

Similar sentiments were echoed by another senior member of the Committee, Congressman Ed Royce, California Republican and a former co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans who said while 'there is enthusiastic support on Capitol Hill for growing US-India ties,' the nuclear deal 'has implications beyond US-India relations.'

Royce, who chairs the International Relations Committee's Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation that has oversight and legislative responsibilities over nonproliferation matters, said, 'In this process, the goal of curbing nuclear proliferation should be paramount.'

Thus, he declared, 'Congress will continue its careful consideration of this far-reaching agreement.'

Senator John Cornyn, Texas Republican, who is the founder and co-chair of the Friends of India Caucus in the US Senate, told that he was "extremely pleased that the United States and India have reached an agreement on the separation plan, which is such a critical part of the overall civil nuclear agreement."

"I welcome the opportunity for the Congress to now do its part," he said. "I have previously spoken in support of this initiative and I am hopeful that we will soon reach an agreement on the details of the plan and look forward to the Senate's consideration of the legislation that will implement the agreement."

However, Cornyn asserted that "it would be a mistake to confine the significance of the President's mission to India solely to this nuclear agreement."

"We have to keep in mind that India is not only the world's largest democracy but a rapidly growing consumer market for American goods and services. Unlike some other developing economies, India's growth is not confined to heavy industry geared for the export market."

Cornyn said, "Because India's economic dynamo is being driven from the bottom up, satisfying the needs of a rising middle class points to a balanced, healthy commercial relationship with the United States."

Consquently, he said he was glad that the Joint Statement by President Bush and Prime Minister Singh on March 2, while announcing the agreement on the nuclear deal, had also pointed to the agreements of several other facets of the relationship "that are equally, if not more, important."

Congressman Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, and the immediate past GOP co-chair of the India Caucus said the agreement 'will advance our strategic partnership, enhance our energy security, and strengthen our global nonproliferation efforts.'

He said, 'This positive development is another symbol of the strong bond that exists between our two nations,' and pledged that he remains 'dedicated to gaining Congressional support for this landmark proposal.'

Wilson told, "While I recognize that it will be a tough fight in Congress, I am confident that a majority of my colleagues will support this important agreement.'

He asserted that "India is a responsible and courageous nation that deserves the strong support of the United States," and predicted that "working together, we can build stability, mutually grow our economies and further nuclear nonproliferation efforts around the world."

Congressman Joe Crowley, New York Democrat, who served as co-chair with Wilson of the India Caucus, said as a member of the International Relations Committee 'of which this legislation must pass before, I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to see that today's agreement becomes permanent law to further cement the relationship between these two great nations.'

Hours before the agreement was announced in New Delhi by Prime Minister Singh and President Bush, Wilson and Crowley sent out a Dear Colleague letter to their fellow members in the House urging support for the deal.

They argued that it is imperative that when the Administration comes up on Capitol Hill with the nuclear proposal, Congress should back this deal 'without delay or additional conditionality.'

Wilson and Crowley wrote that 'it is in the US national interest to take our rapidly developing relationship with India to a new level, to advance energy security, and to enhance nonproliferation efforts globally.'

They declared that 'India is a rising global power, and in the coming decades it will assert itself on the world scene. The civil nuclear cooperation initiative provides us with a once-in-a-generation chance to dramatically improve relations with this rising global force.We believe the commitment to this strengthened partnership with India enjoys bipartisan support. We should seize this opportunity to cultivate our strategic partnership with the world's largest democracy.'

Congressman Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat, the founder and former co-chair of the India Caucus, told that the US "has established an important strategic partnership with India and the civil nuclear cooperation deal is a significant accomplishment."

He noted that the agreement "strengthens energy security for the United States and India, and promotes the development of stable and efficient energy markets in India to ensure adequate and affordable supplies."

Pallone, who a week ago took to the House floor in support of the deal, said he was fully supportive of "the President's endeavor and will do what is necessary to strengthen its support in Congress. Its implementation is important for US-India relations."

The current co-chair of the India Caucus, Congressman Gary Ackerman, New York Democrat, who is also a senior member of the International Relations Committee, said, 'Although I strongly differ with President Bush on a broad range of issues both domestically and internationally, I agree with him on the subject of the US-India nuclear deal. India is worthy of a new era of cooperation with the United States on civilian use of nuclear power and the agreement is the right strategic choice."

But Ackerman complained, "Unfortunately, while the President is right on the merits, he's short on the plan for getting it passed."

He noted that the President "has, thus far, done a horrendous job of convincing Congress that the agreement is a good idea."

But, Ackerman said, "Now that there is an agreement with India, he must get to work and make the case to Congress or else the nuclear deal will blow up in his face. The benefits of the deal are obvious to me, but there are many members of Congress who do not support the agreement and are already working to defeat it."

"It was tough work to seal the deal while in India, but the President's true difficulties with it now lie here at home," he added.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC