Washington: The United States faces a final hurdle in the implemention of a landmark civilian nuclear pact with India - convincing lawmakers that the deal has adequate safeguards as prescribed by US law.
President George W Bush’s administration said on Monday it was “hopeful” the US Congress would endorse the agreement, which would lift a ban on nuclear trade with India after three decades, before his term ends in January.
But lawmakers who began a short final session Monday ahead of a presidential vote on November 4 have sought greater transparency on the deal, especially details of its approval by the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) last week.
The greenlight from the NSG, a regulator of sale of nuclear fuel and technology, came after countries such as China, New Zealand, Austria and Ireland expressed reservation about opening up nuclear commerce with India, which is not a member of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
“Before we vote, Congress needs to study the NSG decision, along with any agreements that were made behind the scenes to bring it about,” said Howard Berman, chairman of the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee.
Berman, who plays an influential role in rallying House support for the deal, has demanded that any final agreement must be consistent with a special law - the Hyde Act - passed overwhelmingly in 2006 laying the foundation for the nuclear deal.
A key condition under the law is immediate termination of all nuclear commerce by NSG member states if India detonates a nuclear explosive device.
“If the administration wants to seek special procedures to speed congressional consideration, it will have to show how the NSG decision is consistent with the Hyde Act ..., including which technologies can be sent to India and what impact a nuclear test by India would have,” he said.
The White House said it would work with the Congress to get the deal approved.
Weapons experts said the NSG did not provide clear restrictions over India’s involvement in nuclear trade or about terminating such commerce if India conducted a test explosion.
Sharon Squassoni, a nuclear expert who once advised the US Congress, said India had not key provisions of the Hyde Act, including filing a declaration with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, of the civilian nuclear facilities New Delhi would place under safeguards.
It has also not made “substantial progress” on negotiating an additional protocol with the agency for strengthened safeguard measures, she said.
The Bush admimistration also may not have sufficient time to get the deal through Congress, she added.
US law requires that the Congress be in 30 days of continuous session to consider the deal. Given the targeted date of adjournment of September 26, this would leave only 15 days of continuous session.