Sun, Aug 05, 2007 - Page 5 News List

US Congress to decide legality of India accord

CHECK A congressman raised the issue of whether the nuclear deal conforms with the Henry Hyde Act, even though it has been in negotiation for two years

AFP , WASHINGTON

The US Congress has to determine whether an operational agreement of a landmark US-India nuclear deal is legal, the head of an influential House of Representatives panel said on Friday.

The statement by Tom Lantos, the Democratic chairman of the House committee on foreign affairs, came as two US arms experts warned that the civilian nuclear agreement was filled with "loopholes" that could be exploited by India to bolster its nuclear weapons program.

The agreement has been approved by the two governments after exhaustive discussions spanning two years, but US law requires mandatory Congress approval of the pact, which was transmitted to lawmakers and made public on Friday.

US legislators last year approved in principle the Henry Hyde Act allowing export of civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India in a move to reverse decades of sanctions imposed after India's nuclear tests.

US President George W. Bush signed it into law in December.

Lantos said Congress needed "to determine whether the new agreement conforms to the Henry Hyde Act, and thereby supports US foreign policy and nonproliferation goals."

"I welcome the opportunity to review the civilian nuclear cooperation deal in detail," he said in a statement.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the US Arms Control Association, and Fred McGoldrick, a former senior official with the US Department of Energy, called for a closing of "the proliferation loopholes that plague" the agreement.

As Congress is about to go on its summer recess up to early September, it would probably take time for lawmakers to weigh it and come to a consensus, Congressional aides said.

"There is no agenda at the moment. Congress simply would have to take everything into account and ensure that the agreement is in line with what Congress approved," Lantos's spokeswoman Lynne Weil said.

Some US legislators have expressed skepticism over the operating agreement but Bush, a Republican, said he looked forward to working with the Democratic-controlled Congress to implement the deal.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican on the House foreign affairs committee, said she too had concerns, including India's right to reprocess nuclear fuel from the US under the agreement, and technology that could be used to enhance the Asian giant's nuclear weapons program.

The right to reprocess spent US-sourced nuclear fuel has been given only to Japan and the EU so far.

"In the months ahead, we will be working toward resolving these concerns that are critical to our nation's security and look forward to developing a consensus on how to proceed," she said.

Ros-Lehtinen also raised the "growing military, political, and commercial relationship between India and Iran at a time when responsible nations are curtailing their dealings" with the Islamic republic over its nuclear program.

The agreement "will be under a microscope once Congress gets a chance to look at it," said Edward Markey, the Democratic co-chairman of the House of Representatives Bipartisan Task Force on Non-Proliferation.

He said Congressional consideration would not occur until India had negotiated a "safeguards" agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and a "rule-change" at the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group.

The US would, under the pact, also support the creation of an "Indian strategic fuel reserve" and help India, a non member of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), gain access to the international fuel market.

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