US lawmakers threaten to block India nuclear deal

A bi-partisan group of lawmakers warned Congress could block a landmark US-India nuclear deal.

US lawmakers threaten to block India nuclear deal
A bi-partisan group of lawmakers warned that Congress could block a landmark US-India nuclear cooperation deal if it sidesteps safeguards to prevent military uses of the technology.

The 23 legislators sent a letter to President George W. Bush saying the so-called "123" operating agreement, which reportedly allows India to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, could end up violating US law.

"The agreement for nuclear cooperation is subject to the approval of Congress, and any inconsistencies between the agreement and the relevant US laws will call congressional approval deeply into doubt," said the letter from the 23 members of the House of Representatives.

Edward Markey, co-chairman of the House Bipartisan Task Force on Nonproliferation, sounded his own warning.

"If the 123 agreement has been intentionally negotiated to side-step or bypass the law and the will of Congress, final approval for this deal will be jeopardized," Markey said.

Details of the agreement have been kept under wraps since it was finalized in Washington last week by senior officials of the two countries.

The nuclear deal was agreed upon by Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh two years ago to highlight strategic ties between the world's two biggest democracies.

The Congress approved the deal in principle last year and a bill to that effect was signed into law by Bush, but there was a delay in finalizing the operating agreement, which has to be approved again by Congress.

India has stood fast against accepting any curbs on its reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

India also wants assurances that Washington will continue to supply fuel for its atomic plants in the event New Delhi conducts further nuclear weapons tests.

Indian media reports said the United States had agreed in principle to New Delhi's proposal to reprocess spent fuel in a dedicated national facility under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

But Washington is reportedly reluctant to provide such reprocessing technology to India, which has been under three decades of US sanctions for nuclear tests and is not a member of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Based on details of the implementing agreement that had been leaked, "three or four significant issues could be in conflict with US laws," Daryl Kimball, executive director of the US Arms Control Association, told AFP.

They pertain to reprocessing and safeguards, he said.

The Indian Cabinet approved Wednesday the controversial agreement.

"All concerns of India have been reflected and have been adequately addressed," Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said after two cabinet committees both "approved the agreement."

The US State Department indicated that the Bush administration would consider the accord by the end of the week.

"I think the Indian government, based on discussions we had last week, are taking some positive steps," department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters, without divulging details of the agreement.

But he vowed that the United States was "not going to agree to anything that is not in the United States' national interest.

"In terms of "needing agreements' we're certainly not going to do anything that we believe is harmful to either our national security or foreign policy interests," he said.

Kimball said reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel in India could be risky as not all Indian nuclear facilities would come under international safeguards.

For the deal to be implemented, India has to separate nuclear facilities for civilian and military use and set up a regime of international inspections to allay concerns that material and technology received are not diverted to boost its nuclear weapons arsenal.

The Indians also needed to sign an additional IAEA protocol and win approval from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group.

"I think once we have all these elements in place, we will go to the Congress with the full spectrum of what we are doing," McCormack said.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 26 Temmuz 2007, 15:18