Washington, July 21: The US Congress is at war over President George W. Bush’s initiative to implicitly recognise India as a nuclear weapons state and offer New Delhi nuclear technology that has so far been the preserve of the five big powers.
Even before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh left Washington after bagging a landmark nuclear deal with Bush, the energy committee of the US House of Representatives sent a warning up to the White House not to proceed with the deal.
The committee, made up of almost an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, adopted an amendment to an energy bill that Bush is very keen to pass.
The amendment expressly prohibits any export of nuclear technology or equipment to India and other countries, which have detonated a nuclear weapon and not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“We are playing with fire by picking and choosing when to pay attention to the existing non-proliferation treaties,” Ed Markey, a key member of the committee and a Democrat from Massachusetts, said as justification for his amendment.
“Why should the US sell controlled nuclear goods to India'” he asked. “What will Russia say when they want to supply more nuclear materials and technology to Iran' You can be sure that Pakistan will demand equal treatment. Will the Bush administration soon be announcing nuclear co-operation with them'”
Markey’s arguments found favour with both his partymen and Republicans as demonstrated by the committee’s vote approving his amendment, but Senators rejected the measure at a “conference committee” of both houses of Congress, where differences between the two are reconciled in order for a unified legislation to proceed.
A Republican from Bush’s home state of Texas, who chairs the conference committee, Joe Barton, said: “This is a way for the House to send a signal on this particular treaty”.
Despite a rejection by senators, members of the House of Representatives have vowed to pursue their opposition to the Bush-Singh nuclear deal. Markey is likely to move a separate bill seeking to stall the White House initiative on India.
The worry for Bush and Singh ought to be the reluctance of members of the India Caucus on Capitol Hill to come out and openly align themselves with the House on the deal with India.
That reluctance points to a groundswell of doubts and concerns here about the advisability of implementing what the President and the Prime Minister agreed here on Monday.
The second worry for the two leaders ought to be a rising crescendo of opinion in America against the deal. It can only be countered if New Delhi can prove to Americans that there is much in the deal for them, too. That would inevitably mean concessions to Washington in other areas.
The Boston Globe said in an editorial yesterday that “Bush is wise to partner up with India while it is beginning its ascendancy as a swing state in the geopolitics of Asia, but he is paying too high a price”.
Experts on non-proliferation or South Asia are yet to rally behind what Bush wants to offer India. Michael Krepon, president emeritus of the Henry L. Stimson Center, spoke for this influential community here when he said: “If we change the rules of proliferation, we can’t change them only with respect to our friends.”
In a hopeful sign for the agreement between Bush and Singh, Mohamed El Baradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, today came out in its support. “Out-of-the-box thinking and active participation by all members of the international community are important if we are to advance nuclear arms control, non-proliferation, safety and security, and tackle new threats such as illicit trafficking in sensitive nuclear technology and the risks of nuclear terrorism,” El Baradei said in a statement.
US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice telephoned El Baradei and briefed him on the US nuclear initiative with India, without which, international opposition to the initiative may have been stronger.
She spoke to Musharraf while other state department officials had similar briefings for officials in Berlin, Paris and London.