- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

India stands firmly behind a major civilian nuclear deal with the United States, despite growing fears that U.S. lawmakers will not approve the deal before Congress adjourns for good at the end of the year, Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen said yesterday.

“We will honor our part of the bargain, I assure you,” Mr. Sen said, dismissing speculation in the Indian press that the accord was in trouble because of U.S. delays.

“We have never reneged on any international agreement we have made,” he said, answering questions about the nuclear pact after an address to the Arlington-based Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.

U.S. officials tout the nuclear deal, struck by President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in July 2005, as the centerpiece of a blossoming strategic relationship with the fast-growing South Asian democracy.

The agreement would lift longstanding U.S. bans on supplying nuclear fuel and technology to India, in exchange for India opening its civilian nuclear industry to international oversight for the first time.

U.S. critics of the deal say it could blow a hole in U.S. efforts to control nuclear proliferation in rogue states such as Iran. In India, the deal has proven controversial over fears it would impose too many controls on India’s military nuclear program. India never signed the international nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The House of Representatives passed the bill enabling the deal with bipartisan support in July, but the Senate failed to take up the bill before adjourning last month. The Bush administration has been pushing the Senate to take up the measure during the brief “lame-duck” session scheduled after Tuesday’s congressional elections.

Failure to vote by the end of the year means that the newly seated 110th Congress next year will have to start from scratch in considering the India deal, a delay that could stretch through much of 2007.

But lawmakers must also deal with 10 unfinished spending bills in the lame-duck session, and it is not clear if there will be room on the calendar for other business.

If Tuesday’s vote brings a massive turnover in either chamber, especially if the Democrats make major gains, supporters of the India pact fear the lame-duck session would be unlikely to take up major legislation such as the India nuclear deal.

The pact remains a top priority of the Bush administration. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called new Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee late last month to assure him that the administration was still pushing for passage this year.

Mr. Sen acknowledged there were critics of the agreement in India, including the Communist Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the leading Hindu nationalist party.

But he said the “lively” debate back home should not cause Americans to question India’s commitment to the deal and to the strategic partnership with Washington.

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