US Congress to scrutinize nuclear pact with India

() - August 4, 2007 - 4:25am

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US Congress has to determine whether an operational agreement of a landmark US-India nuclear deal is legal, the head of the influential House of Representatives foreign relations panel said yesterday.

US lawmakers had 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 but the Act made it mandatory for lawmakers to approve the deal's key operating agreement, which was transmitted to Congress and made public.

"As Congress considers it, we need to determine whether the new agreement conforms to the Henry Hyde Act, and thereby supports US foreign policy and nonproliferation goals," said Tom Lantos, the chairman of the House foreign relations committee.

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

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 line with what Congress approved," Lantos's spokeswoman Lynne Weil told AFP.

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

The agreement "will be under a microscope once Congress gets a chance to look at it," said Edward Markey, 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.

While Congress in December approved legislation enabling US exports of civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India, the operating agreement goes one step further by allowing India to reprocess spent fuel under international safeguards.

That right to reprocess spent US-sourced nuclear fuel has been given only to Japan and the European Union so far.

The United States would, under the pact, also support the creation of an "Indian strategic fuel reserve" and help India gain access to the international fuel market.

New Delhi reportedly wanted such a provision to guard against a supply cut-off due to any nuclear testing.

"This language clearly contradicts the intent of the (US law), which was to cut off US assistance if India resumes testing and was not to help India build up a multi-year fuel supply," Daryl Kimball, executive director of the US Arms Control Association, had said.

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