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N-deal: Hillary Clinton breaks her silence

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
Last updated on: July 04, 2006 01:42 IST
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Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democratic co-chair of the Friends of India Caucus in the US-Senate, whose silence thus far on the US-India civilian nuclear agreement had been deafening and of deep concern to her staunch Indian American supporters and fund-raisers, has finally come out in support of the deal.

In a statement made available by her press office, Clinton said she intended to vote in support of the legislation -- approved by a overwhelming vote of 18-2 by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 29 to facilitate the implementation of the deal --when it comes to the Senate floor.

At the outset, Clinton declared that the United States and India are bound together by deep mutual respect and our common efforts to work towards a democratic, free, and secure world. 'As co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, I have sought to strengthen the ties that bind our two nations,' she said.

She then went on to say that 'the legislation that emerged from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was a significant improvement over the implementing legislation put forward by the Administration in March.'

'The Administration's initial proposal sought to undercut Congressional authority by asking us to effectively approve an agreement before it had even been negotiated with India, and before India had reached its nuclear safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency,' she said.

Clinton said that over the past few months she had been 'carefully following the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's consideration of this agreement,' and lauded Senators Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican and chairman of the Committee, and Joseph Biden, Delaware Democrat, the ranking minority member, 'for the seriousness with which they exercised their jurisdiction over this legislation.'

She noted that 'because of the efforts of Chairman Lugar and Ranking Member Biden, the bill that was voted out of the Committee is a far better bill. 'The legislation passed by the Foreign Relations Committee not only retains Congressional prerogatives, but it also ensures that Congress will not have to vote to approve a final agreement until every single nation in the Nuclear Suppliers Group -- the global regime given the charge for ensuring the responsible trade of nuclear technology -- has agreed to permit the transfer of peaceful nuclear technology to India.'

Clinton said that 'by working through the NSG, we will help strengthen both that group, as well as the greater international nonproliferation regime that is center-stage as we address the threats posed by the nuclear weapons programs of Iran and North Korea.'

'As India continues to grow stronger and to shoulder more of the responsibilities that come with being a leading nation in the world, we must continue to work towards greater cooperation with our Indian friends to deal with our common challenges in security, energy, economic and health,' she said.

'I hope that this agreement is just the first step on that journey that our countries, and our people, will take together,' Clinton added.

Earlier, Senator John Cornyn, Texas Republican and the founder and GOP co-chair of the Friends of India Caucus acknowledged that he was embarrassed that Clinton, had neither co-sponsored the nuclear agreement nor spoken out in favor of the deal, and told that he has been 'working on her but one ought to ask her why she had not yet come out publicly in support of the deal.'

"It may be politics, I don't know," he said.

However, he asserted: "I am optimistic, although there is some natural resistance because of the nonproliferation treaty, but once people understand that India has a very good track record and it has the same interests that we do in making sure that nuclear weapons do not proliferate into the hands of terrorists then I think they will come around."

Immediately after the Lugar/Biden legislation sailed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, two days after it was overwhelmingly adopted by the House International Relations Committee, Dr R Vijayanagar, the chairman of the Indian American Republican Council slammed Clinton for her silence, saying, "She did not support us when we needed it, and she can be assured that the Indian American community will not forget her intransigence."

Obviously, in a partisan attack, Vijayanagar pointed out that her co-chair of the Friends of India Caucus -- John Cornyn -- had not lost a single opportunity to support the deal and argued that he had played a key role in the passage of the legislation by taking to the Senate floor and arguing in support of the deal and also rebutting those who criticized it.

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC