Nuke-deal: Senate, House panels take two roads to same goal
WASHINGTON: In endorsing the India-US nuclear deal with overwhelming majorities one after the other, two key panels of the US Congress took slightly different routes to the same destination - building a bipartisan consensus while ensuring the legislature's watchdog role. To that end, the Republican heads of the two panels, Richard Lugar and Henry Hyde, with their respective leading Democrat partners, Joseph Biden and Tom Lantos, crafted altogether new bills, in place of the ones they had introduced last March at the Bush administration's bidding. Both the Senate and House foreign relations panels opted for a two-step vote for the final Congressional approval. The first, waiving prohibitions to allow the Bush administration to negotiate a peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement with India, and the second to approve the so-called "123 agreement" itself. But here the similarity ends. While the House panel's 'A Sense of Congress' section lays out conditions regarding when civil nuclear cooperation with other countries may be in order, the Senate chose to custom tailor it for India alone. It also made no unsavoury references, like the one in the House panel bill calling "for securing India's full and active participation in US efforts to dissuade, isolate, and, if necessary, sanction and contain Iran", that had touched a raw nerve in India. There were references to Iran, but only in Lugar's opening statement, and not unpalatable to India. In fact, one of these was used to exhort the US Congress itself to approve a bill to implement an IAEA Additional Protocol and thus broaden the scope of the India bill. The House panel's 'Statement of Policy' section clarifies US policy in areas like the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the interpretation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in general and a series of goals regarding India and South Asia. On the other hand, the Senate committee's 'Sense of the Congress' dilates on US-India relations and policy declarations involving bilateral relations, democratic values, nuclear non-proliferation regimes, fissile material production in South Asia, and support for IAEA safeguards and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. All of these concerns are reinforced by the bill's comprehensive reporting requirements. Lugar thus described the emerging bill as one that allows US to seize an important strategic opportunity, while ensuring a strong Congressional oversight role and reinforcing the country's non-proliferation efforts - an objective the Senate committee shared with the House panel.