Washington: The US Congress is unlikely to compromise on core disputed elements of a nuclear cooperation agreement with India, an influential Democratic senator said, as both nations struggle to complete the deal by month’s end.
Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and supporter of the landmark deal, outlined narrow conditions under which he and other legislators might consider altering US law on nuclear testing and reprocessing that India has opposed.
“No, I think it would be very difficult to do that,” Biden, a Democratic presidential hopeful, said when asked if he could foresee compromise on those issues.
Meanwhile, key Democratic and Republican congressmen on Wednesday warned Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that New Delhi’s ties with Iran have “significant potential” to harm US-India relations and final approval of the nuclear deal.
In a letter, they urged Singh to provide assurances “that India will cease illicit procurement activities in the US, sever military cooperation with Iran and terminate India’s participation in the development of Iran’s energy sector,” which could trigger US sanctions.
The much-heralded US-India nuclear deal would give India access to US nuclear fuel and reactors for the first time in 30 years, despite the fact that New Delhi tested nuclear weapons and never signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. It is the touchstone of a new US-India relationship that Washington hopes will be a foundation of 21st century international security.
But disputes about India’s intentions on nuclear testing and reprocessing have proven thorny with both US President George W. Bush and Singh under political constraints that limit compromise.
Although US officials had long predicted quick completion, there have been growing fears the deal could unravel. US-India negotiations this week revived talk of progress, and undersecretary of state Nicholas Burns said he would visit India later this month to try to close the deal.
The pact was approved by Congress in December in a new law called the Hyde Act, but the countries have since struggled to negotiate a bilateral agreement laying down detailed terms of nuclear trade. Congress also gets to vote on the second agreement.
India claims Congress imposed new conditions, but US experts say the Hyde Act reflects US obligations under other US laws and commitments. One major obstacle is the legal mandate that Washington halt nuclear cooperation if India tests a nuclear weapon as in 1998.
Other disputed points are US’ refusal to give India prior approval to allow reprocessing of spent fuel with US components and to assure permanent fuel supplies.
Biden said the only circumstance meriting compromise was if India could make a case that its two adversaries, China and Pakistan, “were materially altering” the regional balance.
“Then I think it would be a whole different discussion. But absent... demonstrable evidence that they (Indians) were signing themselves into an inferior position by taking on this agreement, I ...can’t see anything that would justify the US in a material way changing those two items you mentioned,” he said.
The letter signed by Democrat Tom Lantos, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, senior Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and others was the third, and strongest, in recent days by different groups of lawmakers expressing rising concern over India-Iran ties.
At a news conference in Washington on Tuesday, foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon played down the India-Iran relationship and said the US administration had not pushed the issue.