Washington: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday the United States and India have adopted an operating agreement for a landmark nuclear deal that reports said went beyond terms approved by Congress.
“The United States and India have reached a historic milestone in their strategic partnership by completing negotiations on the bilateral agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation,” Rice said in a statement.
She did not provide details of the so-called “123 agreement,” which according to reports had gone beyond the terms approved by the US Congress. Lawmakers there have threatened to block the deal if it sidestepped safeguards to prevent military uses of the technology.
Under the pact, the administration of President George W. Bush has promised to help India build a nuclear fuel repository and find alternative sources of nuclear fuel, an arrangement that skirts some of the provisions of the law, the New York Times reported Friday.
It leaves Bush, who in 2004 declared that “enrichment and reprocessing are not necessary for nations seeking to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes,” in the position of making concessions that appear to help Indian efforts to make new nuclear fuel, the newspaper reported.
In December, Congress gave approval to landmark legislation allowing US export of civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India for the first time in 30 years.
It was aimed at reversing three decades of sanctions on India for its nuclear tests. India has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“The successful completion of the (operating agreement) text permits us to move forward” on the nuclear deal, first announced by President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh two years ago, Rice said.
The next steps include India’s negotiation of a “safeguards” agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency watchdog and support for nuclear trade with India in the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, she said.
“Once these additional actions have been completed, President Bush will submit the text of the agreement to the US Congress for final approval,” she said.
Twenty-three lawmakers of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Bush reminding him that the operating agreement “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.”
Edward Markey, co-chairman of the House Bipartisan Task Force on Non-proliferation, 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.
The deal could open up a whopping $100 billion in opportunities for American businesses, according to the US Chamber of Commerce.
“Civil nuclear cooperation between the United States and India will offer enormous strategic and economic benefits to both countries, including enhanced energy security, a more environmentally-friendly energy source, greater economic opportunities, and more robust non-proliferation efforts,” Rice said.
The forging of the operating agreement after years of talks “reinforces the growing bilateral relationship between two vibrant democracies,” she added.
“We are committed to the strategic partnership outlined by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and look forward to working together to implement this historic initiative,” she said.
For the nuclear deal to be implemented, India will have 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 could be diverted to boost its nuclear weapons arsenal.