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Rice Warns Congress Against Tinkering With US-India Nuclear Deal

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Apr 06, 2006
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Congress Wednesday that altering a landmark civilian nuclear deal with India could destroy a new partnership with the Asian giant.

US lawmakers are reportedly sceptical about the deal clinched by President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on March 2 because New Delhi has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and has developed nuclear weapons.

But Rice, speaking at hearings in the Senate and House of Representatives, pushed lawmakers to endorse the deal for energy-starved India to gain access to long-denied civilian nuclear technology in return for placing a majority of its nuclear reactors under international inspection.

"What would happen if this initiative were defeated or changed in a way that fundamentally alters its substance?" she asked.

"All the hostility and suspicion of the past would be redoubled," she said, recalling Cold War tensions, when relations were "bedeviled" and there was "structural ambivalence" between the two nations.

Rice cautioned lawmakers that a failed nuclear deal would also "hand the enemies of this new relationship a great victory. We would slide backward, when we should be striding forward," she said.

The top US diplomat said Russia, Britain, France and Australia had all backed the deal, which could only be effective if Congress amended the US Atomic Energy Act prohibiting nuclear sales to non-NPT signatories.

Critics argue that the agreement smacked of a double standard and could embolden nuclear renegades such as Iran and North Korea even though officials say India's nuclear non-proliferation record was exemplary.

Dick Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for "a thorough, bipartisan review" of the deal in the context of non-proliferation goals, global energy requirements, environmental concerns, and the US geo-strategic relationship with India.

Henry Hyde, head of the House international relations committee, said "the principal area of contention by far" concerns the deal's possible detrimental impact on global nonproliferation policy.

Democratic senators Joseph Biden and John Kerry said Congress was being asked to approve the deal without having details of safeguards to be imposed on India by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"I am uncomfortable voting to change the overall structure without seeing those safeguards, knowing what they're going to be," Kerry said.

Rice said the head of India's atomic energy commission was travelling to Vienna this week to begin negotiations with the IAEA on the safeguards agreement.

She said she told Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran "in no uncertain terms that this was going to be an issue with Congress and that they ought to negotiate with the IAEA as quickly as possible."

US lawmakers also wanted India to implement its commitment to a multilateral fissile material cut-off treaty.

"We've told the Indians they need to be helpful in that. They've promised that they will. And we will press them very hard to help us on that," Rice said.

She stoutly defended the deal, saying it would "clearly enhance energy security, benefit the environment and does strengthen the international nuclear nonproliferation regime."

On worries over India's nuclear weapons, she said New Delhi would never accept a unilateral freeze or cap on its atomic arsenal considering the security situation in its neighbourhood.

"No one can credibly assert that India would accept what would amount to an arms control agreement that did not include other key countries like China and Pakistan," she added.

It is not clear when Congress will make the changes to the law but the Bush administration wants it to act before summer.

Some lawmakers were reported saying the complex issue would probably not be taken up until after the November Congressional elections.

Once endorsed by Congress, the nuclear deal is widely expected to be adopted by the international Nuclear Suppliers Group to effectively end India's status as a nuclear pariah.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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