Reuters: The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday backed a proposal requiring India to actively cooperate in restraining Iran’s nuclear programs as a condition of nuclear cooperation with the United States.
By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday backed a proposal requiring India to actively cooperate in restraining Iran’s nuclear programs as a condition of nuclear cooperation with the United States.
The voice vote approval on a provision opposed by the White House and New Delhi sets a marker as the House and the Senate struggle to complete work by week’s end on long-delayed legislation advancing India’s quest to purchase American-made nuclear reactors and fuel for the first time in 30 years.
Underscoring the high-stakes debate, outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist spoke with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by telephone on Monday.
Frist, a Tennessee Republican, said he assured Singh the U.S.-India nuclear agreement was a top priority and it would be enacted this week before Congress adjourns for the year.
The House and the Senate have adopted competing versions of the bill and Singh complained about provisions India considers burdensome or unfair. Frist said he assured Singh “we are working on the issues of concern to India.”
The two chambers appointed negotiators to produce a single compromise version. They began working on Tuesday.
Democrats have accused the Bush administration of seeking to strip protections against weapons proliferation from the legislation, which is a first step toward enabling the landmark U.S.-India civilian nuclear cooperation deal to go forward.
The deal reverses 30 years of U.S. policy which until July 2005 opposed nuclear cooperation with India because the South Asian democracy never signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and developed nuclear weapons in contravention of international standards.
Among other things, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has insisted Congress drop a requirement in the Senate bill that would condition nuclear cooperation on India “fully and actively participating in U.S. and international efforts to dissuade, sanction and contain Iran for its nuclear program.”
But in a voice vote, the House instructed its negotiators to work to retain the Senate provision.
ASSESSMENT OF INDIAN POLICY
Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos of California, who is to become chairman of the House International Relations Committee when Democrats take control of Congress in January, argued for the condition.
He said he backs U.S. nuclear cooperation with India but Congress should have an official U.S. assessment of India’s policy toward Iran when lawmakers consider — presumably next year — a second bill setting out technical details of the nuclear cooperation deal.
Democratic Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts called the requirement “modest,” mandating only that a U.S. president certify India was abiding by U.N. Security Council resolutions on Iran.
“We really need to ensure that India is not able to simultaneously reap the benefits of nuclear cooperation with the U.S. and others, while continuing to support Iran’s efforts to maintain a renegade nuclear program,” Markey said.
Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association said the House vote should make it more difficult for Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s outgoing chairman, and Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, his successor, “to capitulate to the White House campaign to eliminate this important provision.”
Iran has ignored a U.N. Security Council demand to halt uranium enrichment activities which the United States and its allies say are evidence of a nuclear weapons program but Tehran says is only for energy generation.
Rice has told congressional leaders India twice joined Washington in voting against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency and is expected to continue cooperating.
But “this certification would be viewed by India as adding additional conditions” to the deal, she said.