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US Senate Committee passes N-deal bill

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
Last updated on: June 29, 2006 23:25 IST
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A day after the House International Relations Committee marked up the India-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement by an overwhelming 37-5 majority, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee went even better, in its turn marking up the bill with 16 members voting in favour and only two against it.

Senators Russell Feingold (Wisconsin) and Barbara Boxer (California) were the sole dissenters, as majority of the committee members almost tripped over one another to co-sponsor the legislation introduced by Senators Richard Lugar and Joe Biden, chair and ranking Democrat respectively on the Foreign Relations Committee.

As with the HIRC vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has now sent the bill for full debate and voting on the Senate floor; the overwhelming vote in favor signalling to the full Senate that the committee is solidly behind the bill and desirous of its passing.

Of the three amendments proposed at the Senate committee, two were approved by voice vote while one was rejected.

By a convincing margin of 13-5, the Committee rejected an amendment by Democrat Senator Russell Feingold requiring US President George W Bush to certify that he has assurances from India that all assistance from US would only be in the realm of civil nuclear cooperation.

The Committee gave its nod for an amendment by Lincoln Chaffee, Republican from Rhode Island, that the US was not supporting India's nuclear weapons programme directly or indirectly.

Piloted by Democrat Barak Obama from Illinois, the second amendment that was endorsed said if any action by India triggered a cut off in civil nuclear cooperation by the US, then Washington should not encourage other nations to undercut it (US).

Both these amendments are non-binding on India.

The bipartisan bill on United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation will now be put to vote in the full floor of the Senate next month.

The bill, which was for exempting US exports of nuclear materials, equipment and technology to India from certain requirements of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, was sponsored by the Senate Committee chair Richard Lugar and had several co-sponsors.

Senator John Kerry, who was the Democrat candidate for the Presidential elections, spoke up for India's non-proliferation record.

In his opening remarks, Lugar 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 the 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 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.

The Senator said the deal has resulted in the improvement of relations between the two countries and the US was strategically benefited by it.

"India's votes at the International Atomic Energy Agency on the Iran issue last September and this past February demonstrate that New Delhi is able and willing to adjust its traditional foreign policies and play a constructive role on international issues," he said.

With PTI Inputs

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC