Tue, Nov 01, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Republicans slam deal to build power plants in India


Senior Republicans in Congress are angry with the Bush administration for proceeding with a deal to help India build civilian nuclear power plants without involving Congress so far, especially given that Congress will have to change one or more laws to make the deal viable.

"As it stands, the situation is both strange and unusual in that the Indian authorities know more about this important proposal than we in Congress," Representative Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, complained last week in an unusual public rebuke of the administration by a loyal Republican.

Republican aides said that several members of Congress were outraged. Recently, the Republican chairmen and senior Democrats on both the Senate and House foreign affairs committees wrote to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, urging her "to begin substantive discussions with our respective committees as soon as possible." The stated concern is procedural, but behind it lies a larger unease about bypassing nonproliferation rules for India, where "we still don't have transparency," as a Senate aide put it.

Republican Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, is negotiating the deal with India. In an interview, he said he had taken pains in recent days to explain to senior members of Congress that, on a recent trip to India, all he did was explain to the Indians their specific obligations and try to work out a timetable for fulfilling them.

Congress will not be asked to take any action until next year, after India has begun to act. As a result, "we feel like we are just beginning with Congress," Burns said.

"We understand completely that it can't happen without congressional authorization," he said.

India developed a nuclear weapons program in secret over several decades and then startled the world when it conducted an underground test in 1998. A 1978 law forbids the provision of nuclear-energy assistance to nations with nuclear weapons. Congress will therefore have to act to make the administration's deal possible.

Burns said he would tell Congress that the administration would propose legislation next year to address all the problems raised by the agreement with India.

Even with the concerns, some in Congress have offered conditional support for the nuclear-power deal, part of a larger "strategic partnership" agreement signed by US President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in July.

"India has, in effect, agreed to an international commitment not to test" nuclear weapons again, said Representative Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, the senior Democrat on the International Relations Committee.

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