The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Nuke battle lines drawn

Washington, March 11: Battle lines have been drawn in Washington over the next steps in the Indo-US nuclear deal with supporters and opponents of the agreement leaving nothing to chance.

Twenty-five South Asia veterans in America’s strategic community, including six former US ambassadors, yesterday signed an open letter to the US Congress supporting the deal.

Their move came even as President George W. Bush’s top nuclear negotiator with India revealed details of how the White House planned to amend the US legislation to permit nuclear trade with New Delhi.

At the same time, a report released here yesterday claimed to have “uncovered a well-developed and secret Indian programme to outfit its uranium enrichment programme and circumvent other countries’ export control efforts”.

The co-authors of the report are David Albright, the first non-governmental UN inspector of the Iraqi nuclear weapons programme and the son of former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, and Susan Basu, a research analyst at the Institute for Science and International Security here.

Nicholas Burns, the US under-secretary of state for political affairs, yesterday said the amendment to America’s Atomic Energy Act was likely to be in the form of “a waiver... which will be India specific”.

Burns told reporters after a meeting of the recently formed Coalition for Partnership with India that “we are not seeking relief from US law for any country in the world except India”.

He said US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice had already this week given the congressional leadership “some ideas for how this legislation could be written”.

He added: “It is up to the congressional leadership to determine how they want to go forward. It is their decision. We respect the separation of powers (between the executive and the legislature). But we have given, at their request, some ideas to Congress as to how this could happen.”

Burns also revealed that “we already have a draft in front of the Indians” and that “we expect to come to conclusion... in the next several weeks”.

Both Washington and New Delhi are in a hurry to complete the process so that they can approach the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) with a reform package for India. The NSG, which controls the global nuclear trade, is to hold its next meeting in summer.

The report by Albright and Basu alleged that an Indian public sector company, Indian Rare Earths Ltd., procures sensitive materials and technology for a secret gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant at the instance of the department of atomic energy and does not reveal to foreign suppliers that the plant is not subject to international monitoring.

Venu Rajamony, a spokesman for the Indian embassy here, called the report “ridiculous” and riddled with baseless charges.

The open letter to the US Congress warned that “failure to implement it (the nuclear deal) would be a body blow to the development of the strong relationship with India, so important to achieving US goals in Asia and beyond.”

Its signatories include ' in addition to former US ambassadors to India like Frank Wisner and William Clark ' China experts such as Thomas Donnelly, a member of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, and Daniel Blumenthal, a former senior director in the defence secretary’s office in charge of China.

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