- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Bush administration yesterday expressed optimism that it can win approval for a far-reaching nuclear deal with India, but warned that any major effort by Congress to amend the pact could scuttle the agreement.

“This is a complex agreement,” said Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns, a key architect of the deal. “To reopen it would probably risk never being able to achieve it again and to reassemble it.”

Bills to implement the agreement were introduced in both the House and Senate yesterday. The core of the agreement, clinched during President Bush’s visit to New Delhi this month, would allow India access to U.S. nuclear technology and supplies in exchange for agreeing to place its civilian nuclear operations under permanent United Nations oversight.

India never signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has been blocked under U.S. law from such deals in the past. Its military nuclear programs are not covered by the new agreement.

But the complexities of the deal and fears of the precedent it might set for other countries seeking nuclear programs have left many lawmakers wary of embracing the deal too quickly, Mr. Burns said at a State Department briefing soon after that the bills were introduced in Congress.

House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, co-sponsored the bill in the House on behalf of the administration, but said he may seek to add unspecified “conditions” to the agreement.

“Congress will need to take a close look at [the agreement’s] many provisions in order to come to an informed decision,” Mr. Hyde said in a statement.

Arguing that the deal promises huge economic and strategic benefits for the United States, administration officials plan a full-scale lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill.

Information packets have been mailed to every member of Congress, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Burns and other senior aides already are scheduled to testify in the coming weeks.

Mr. Burns cautioned that the debate could take several months, and declined to predict the outcome. He said the administration would consider congressional ideas to “strengthen” the agreement, but would fight any fundamental changes in it.

But he has been encouraged by a series of preliminary briefings with lawmakers and staff, saying that only one lawmaker so far unequivocally had stated his intention to oppose the accord.

“I think that we are in round one of a 15-round match, … but we’re encouraged by the number of people on Capitol Hill who have told us, ‘Go ahead with this.’ ”

He said no lawmaker had raised the concern that a number of private nonproliferation advocates have cited: that granting a nuclear exception for India undermines U.S. diplomacy to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

But he said the Bush administration had concerns about a nuclear fuel deal just announced between Russia and India, saying the U.S. government privately has told both governments that the deal should wait until a new international accord on India’s nuclear program was ratified.

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