- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 9, 2006

From combined dispatches

The House gave overwhelming approval last night to legislation allowing U.S. shipments of civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India, setting up consideration by the Senate — the last step before the measure could be sent to President Bush to sign into law.

The Senate was expected to vote late last night or early today. Approval, which appeared likely, would hand Mr. Bush a victory as Democrats prepare to take control of Congress when a new session begins next month.

The House vote on the measure was 330-59.

Despite strong criticism from several lawmakers and nonproliferation groups, the bill had strong support from senior lawmakers from both political parties who championed it as a major shift in U.S. policy toward a democratic power that has long maintained what the Bush administration considers a responsible nuclear program.

“India is a state that should be at the very center of our foreign policy and our attention,” said Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat. He hailed the plan as ushering in a new partnership “based on our shared objective of preventing the spread of dangerous nuclear technology to countries and groups that would use it for evil purposes.”

Although Mr. Bush’s signature would change U.S. law, several hurdles loom before India and the United States could begin civilian nuclear trade:

• The Nuclear Suppliers Group, an assembly of nations that export nuclear material, must make an exception in its rules for India.

• Indian officials must negotiate a safeguard agreement with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

• Another congressional vote must be taken once ongoing technical negotiations on an overall cooperation agreement are settled between the two governments.

Opponents said the plan threatened global efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons and technology and sent a horrible message to other countries that might be looking to boost their nuclear arsenals.

Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, called the plan “a mistake that will come back to haunt the United States and the world.” He pointed to a claim by analysts that the extra nuclear fuel that the deal would provide could free India’s domestic uranium for use in its weapons program, setting off an arms race between India and rival Pakistan.

Holding a large picture of Pakistan’s disgraced nuclear pioneer Abdul Qadeer Khan, Mr. Markey said “A.Q. Khan would accept a deal like that for Pakistan.

“What are we going to say when China offers the same deal to Pakistan? What will we say when the Russians offer the same deal the Iranians,” he asked.

The legislation creates an exemption to allow U.S. civilian nuclear trade with India in exchange for Indian safeguards and inspections at 14 civilian nuclear plants; eight military plants would be off-limits. Congressional action was needed because U.S. law bars nuclear trade with countries, such as India, that have not submitted to full international inspections.

Bowing to pressure from the administration and the Indian government, congressional negotiators watered down provisions in the bill that would have required that Mr. Bush certify that India has been cooperating fully on confronting Iran’s nuclear program before allowing civil nuclear cooperation.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice personally lobbied lawmakers at the last minute to ease the “problematic” provisions. As written now, the bill would require that the president provide Congress with an annual report detailing India’s efforts on Iran.

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