The United States House of Representatives on Friday postponed the formal vote on the approval legislation for the India-US civilian nuclear agreement, following a 40-minute debate.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman, a known opponent of the deal, supported the Senate version of the Bill saying the deal is a positive step as it will bring India into the non-proliferation regime.
Fellow Democrat Edward Markey, who lead the charge on behalf of those opposed to the Bill, insisted on a recorded
vote at the end of the debate, following which the voting was postponed. It is now expected to be taken up on Saturday.
"I'm a strong advocate of closer India-US ties, including peaceful nuclear cooperation. I voted for the Hyde act which
established a framework for such cooperation. The bill before us today will approve the US-India agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation," Berman said.
"Integrating India into a global nonproliferation regime is a positive step," he said, adding that the Bush administration has assured him they will push for an Nuclear Suppliers' Group decision prohibiting the export of enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technologies to states that are not party to Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Fellow Democrat Ellen Tauscher, however, disagreed maintaining that the Bill flies in the face of decades of American leadership to contain the spread of the weapons of mass destruction.
"The India deal would give a country with a dismal record of nonproliferation all the benefits of nuclear trade with
none of the responsibilities. India has been denied access to the market for three decades and for good reason. India is not a signatory of the nonproliferation treaty and has not agreed to disarmament or signed the treaty," Congresswoman Tauscher said.
The debate on the House floor brought out law makers along expected lines in supporting and opposing the revised
Bill introduced by Chairman Berman, who had reservations over the deal and is understood to have brought the second version after senior Bush administration officials talked to him on the need for early nod to the civil nuclear initiative.
However, the Congressman said he still has concerns about ambiguities in the agreement and that several documents should be inserted to clarify these.
"These documents constitute key and dispositive parts of the authoritative representations described in section 102 of
this bill, which gives the right to disapprove a presidential decision to resume civil nuclear cooperation with any country,
not just India, that tests a nuclear weapon.
"It will also ensure that India takes the necessary remaining steps to bring its International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards agreement fully into force and include an additional protocol...I will be voting for H R 7081," the senior Democrat said at the end of his opening statement.
Ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ros Lehtinen also voiced support for the legislation.
"The India-US nuclear cooperation agreement is not one we would offer to just any nation. It is a venture we would enter into only with our most trusted, democratic allies. I believe that stronger economic, scientific, diplomatic and military cooperation between the US and India is in the national interest of both countries," the Florida Congresswoman said.
"... this nuclear cooperation agreement is essential in continuing to ensure India's active involvement in dissuading,
isolating, and if necessary sanctioning and containing Iran for its efforts to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear
weapon capabilities," Ros-Lehtinen said.
A strong supporter of India and currently the Chair of the Sub Committee on Middle East and South Asia Democrat Gary Ackerman strongly supported the Bill.
"It (the approval of the deal) means the IAEA will be able to inspect two-thirds of India's nuclear facilities
because those will be under safeguards and all civilian nuclear facilities will also be under safeguards. For the
first time ever, India will commit to guidelines and will adhere to the NSG guidelines," Ackerman said.
The deal will send a clear message to 'rogue states' that responsible nuclear powers are welcomed by the international
community, the former Co-Chair of the Congressional India Caucus on India and Indian Americans said.
"India would pursue its national interests as it's been doing outside of the nonproliferation mainstream and we get to
inspect nothing. The other is to make a deal with India and the US and the international community will get a window in
perpetuity into two-thirds of India's nuclear facilities...
"The choice is clear, it's time for 21st century policy toward India that encourages India's growth as a nuclear power
and solidifies our relationship for decades to come," the New York Democrat said.
But another Democrat from California Lynn Woolsey cautioned the agreement will permanently undermine decades of
nonproliferation efforts. "It sets a frightening precedent. If a country is unhappy about the rules of nuclear possession, it
can simply go around them, breaking them."
"And what does it matter India ignored the international agreement? Any sanction? Any punishment? Nope. Just a
lucrative deal with the US. If we approve this deal, we lose our moral high ground," she added.
For most part of the debate, the support for the Bill came along bi-partisan lines.
Massachussetts Democrat Markey, the top opponent of the Bill, questioned not only the judgment of the Bush administration in going for the deal but also the non-proliferation gains.
"Most people think this is a debate about India. It is not. This is a debate about Iran, North Korea, Pakistan,
Venezuela, about any other country in the world that harbours the goal of acquiring nuclear weapons. With this vote, we are shattering the nonproliferation rules, and the next three countries to march through the broken glass will be Iran, North Korea and Pakistan," Markey said in closing comments.
"This is an all out nuclear arms race. Pakistan will respond. That is what President Bush should be working on, not
fueling it, but trying to negotiate an end to it," he said.
A prominent supporter of India, South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson argued that a vote in favour of the nuclear deal will be a 'giant step forward' in strengthening America's partnership with the people of India.
"... the two nations have a vested and shared interest in expanding opportunities to compete in the global economy. The US chamber of commerce has estimated that this civilian nuclear agreement will create as many as 250,000 high-tech jobs right here in America," Wilson said.
California Republican Ed Royce called the Hyde Act a tremendous foreign policy achievement of the 109th Congress but added the "failure by this congress to push this agreement across the finish line would be foreign policy malpractice".
"The Indian nuclear industry will overcome international restrictions and will reach their full potential to do this.
Opposing this won't affect India. It will only hurt our relationship with India and US interests... other countries,
notably France and Russia, can enter the Indian nuclear market with a potential $100 billion investment," he said.
Regretting his decision to oppose the Bill in spite of being a strong supporter of India, Ohio Democrat Dennis
Kucinich argued that the civilian nuclear deal threatens the security of India and that the US should work with India on
initiatives to eliminate all weapons for the safety of the global community.
"... the administration has cited Iran for minor breaches of the nonproliferation treaty and used these to raise support
for military attack on Iran. Yet, it is undercutting the treaty to build nuclear weapons. The administration would like this
body to approve a civilian agreement with India despite its refusal to sign the Comprehensive nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
India has nuclear weapons and has no intention of limiting its capability. This undermines efforts by endorsing India's
refusal to sign the agreement..." Congressman Kucinich said.
"...we now have an opportunity to have a new beginning with a country that was not in a good relationship with us in
the past. This could be a profitable relationship and we can, indeed, embrace the world's largest democracy as compared to during the cold war, where we had two closer relationships which we are paying for now. with China which is the world's biggest human rights abuser," Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher said.
"If we expect India to be our ally, we must treat them as an equal, which is what this deal does. India has never...
lifted beyond her borders and I believe this is an important aspect of this relationship that needs to be taken into
consideration when evaluating this legislation before us," another strong supporter in the House and in the Foreign
Affairs Committee Democratic Congressman of New York Joseph Crowley said.