Washington: A nuclear energy agreement with India has support in the US House of Representatives, speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday, adding she hopes “work can be done” to bring it to a vote.
President George W. Bush submitted the accord on Wednesday night, saying it meets the terms set by a law passed almost two years ago and poses no risk to security. Lawmakers first must agree to waive a requirement that Congress, which is due to adjourn on 26 September, be in session 30 consecutive days to consider the agreement.
“I hope that that work can be done so that we can take it up,” Pelosi told reporters in Washington. While the agreement “does have support in the House”, it must “honour the principles of” legislation Congress passed in December 2006 to lay the groundwork for negotiating the terms, she said.
The Bush administration is racing to win ratification of the agreement before Congress adjourns, after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh put his government on the line for it.
Singh will meet Bush at the White House on 25 September to discuss US-India issues, Bush’s spokeswoman Dana Perino said on Thursday.
While a group of nuclear supplier nations last week granted a waiver for India to engage in trade of nuclear fuel and supplies, US companies need congressional approval to participate.
Senate foreign relations committee chairman Joe Biden, the Democratic vice-presidential running mate for candidate Barack Obama, has backed the agreement. Biden would help determine whether the measure gets a vote by the full Senate. “I am pleased the President has submitted” the accord to Congress, Biden said in a statement. “The foreign relations committee will act promptly to review the agreement in a hearing, as soon as next week.”
Senate majority leader Harry Reid will work with Biden and Republican leaders to bring the agreement to a vote by the full chamber, Jim Manley, a spokesman for the Nevada Democrat, said on Wednesday.
“Senator Reid indicated that he would try to find a way to move it forward,” said Manley.
Companies including General Electric Co. want a shot at selling atomic fuel and technology to an economy that needs to power growth of over 8% annually since 2003. The country of 1.1 billion people may spend over $100 billion (Rs4.6 trillion) to meet its energy demands.
“The proposed agreement provides a comprehensive framework for US peaceful nuclear cooperation with India,” Bush said in a statement issued late Wednesday. The accord “will promote, and will not constitute an unreasonable risk to the common defense and security”.
The negotiated terms meet all requirements of the 1954 US Atomic Energy Act except one, Bush said. The accord doesn’t condition continued US supply of atomic fuel to India on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) ability to conduct safety inspections of all nuclear materials. India will submit only its civilian reactors to IAEA safeguards, not its military programme. “The agreement will reinforce the growing bilateral relationship between two vibrant democracies,” Bush said in his statement. The US is “committed to a strategic partnership with India”.
Civil nuclear cooperation will offer strategic and economic benefits to both countries, Bush said. He cited improved energy security, more access to an “environment- friendly” power source, greater economic opportunities, and “more robust non-proliferation efforts”.
Singh and Bush first signed the outlines of the trade accord in 2005. Officials negotiated the specific terms last year.
Arms control advocates are fighting passage, citing its status as one of only three nations that never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. India wants to retain the right to develop nuclear weapons. It is also seeking nuclear energy agreements with France and Russia, the foreign ministry said in New Delhi on Friday.