Washington: Undersecretary of state Nicholas Burns said on Wednesday that a just-completed nuclear deal with India complies with US law, but some experts doubted that, and lawmakers said the agreement could face a rough road in the US Congress.
Congressional sources and other experts said the agreement reached last week appears to go a long way towards meeting the demands of India’s nuclear establishment, giving New Delhi rights only accorded to key US allies—Japan and the European Union.
“The administration is going to call this a success even though from policy and legal perspectives, there are major problems,” said one Congressional source, who spoke anonymously because he learned details of the deal on a confidential basis.
The pact, approved by two key panels of the Indian cabinet on Wednesday, would allow India access to US nuclear fuel and equipment for the first time in 30 years, even though Delhi refused to join non-proliferation pacts and carried out nuclear tests.
“We’re very satisfied because we know the agreement is well within the bounds of the Hyde Act,” Burns told reporters after testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The Hyde Act, approved by Congress in December, created a unique exception to US export law to allow nuclear cooperation with India. The just-completed agreement, called a 123 agreement after a section of the US Atomic Energy Act, spells out technical details for that nuclear cooperation.
Like the Hyde Act, the 123 agreement must be approved by Congress. But that cannot happen until India agrees on a programme of inspections of its nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group changes its rules.
“None of this will happen this year,” the Congressional source said. Specifics of the pact will not be publicly disclosed until Friday, but administration officials have telephoned some lawmakers to discuss the deal.
In a letter to President George W. Bush, 22 Congressmen said a 123 agreement that does not meet the Hyde Act’s minimal conditions “places Congressional approval deeply into doubt.”
The conditions include no nuclear testing, permanent unconditional IAEA inspections of declared Indian nuclear materials and facilities, and an end to nuclear cooperation if the agreement is violated.
Others are a ban on transferring enrichment and reprocessing technology to India and a requirement that Washington give prior approval on a case-by-case basis before India reprocesses US origin nuclear material, the letter noted.
Said Democratic Representative Edward Markey, who organized the letter: “These conditions and restrictions are not optional nor are they advisory. They were passed by Congress and signed by the President.
“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 added.
Experts and Congressional sources said the US agreed to give India advance, long-term permission to reprocess US origin nuclear material once Delhi builds a new reprocessing facility that would only use such material.
Usually, said Sharon Squassoni, an expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Americans don’t give consent rights to reprocess except to their closest allies.