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Since 1st March, 1999
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Nuclear deal enters US Congress test

Washington, March 16: Landmark legislation to see through the Indo-US nuclear deal and to change a discriminatory global non-proliferation regime for the first time in almost four decades was introduced in the US Congress today.

Announcing this at the US state department, America’s top nuclear negotiator with India, Nicholas Burns, however, warned that the process of passing the bill may take many months.

“It is a somewhat lengthy process,” he said, adding the Bush administration has so far been encouraged by its talks on Capitol Hill.

Burns said President George W. Bush and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice had talks with leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives on the deal last week and Rice would resume those talks when she returns here from abroad next week.

“I myself have spent the better part of this week” discussing this issue with Congressional leaders, Burns revealed.

He said not one member of the Senate or House had categorically told him that he or she would vote against the deal. Many members have questions, but they are mainly technical in nature.

The legislation in the House of Representatives has been moved jointly by Democrats and Republicans. It has been sponsored by Henry Hyde, the Republican chairman of the House International Relations Committee, and Tom Lantos, the seniormost Democrat on the panel.

In the Senate, it was moved by Richard Lugar, the influential Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“I rise today to introduce, at the request of the administration, its proposed legislation to implement the recently concluded US-India civilian nuclear agreement,” Lugar said on this historic occasion.

“By providing this draft legislation to the Senate and the House of Representatives, the administration has taken the first step in initiating the Congressional review of the US-Indian civilian nuclear agreement.' I look forward to working with my colleagues and the administration to review this agreement to fulfil our constitutional role on this important matter.”

Asked about the roadblocks before the legislation, Burns admitted that the deal with India was a very complex one, somewhat “esoteric” in many respects.

He said it was a new way of strengthening the global non-proliferation regime, one that was not working well because the world’s second largest country in population was out of it.

He said India was the only country that qualified for exception from the global non-proliferation regime because of its record and its commitments under the deal with the US.

The administration expects many Senators and House members to become co-sponsors of the bill as the debate advances.

The legislation exempts India and the nuclear deal made between New Delhi and Washington from the rigorous provisions of America’s Atomic Energy Act. Burns said the draft of a bilateral technical agreement as a follow-up to the deal with India was submitted to New Delhi for approval two days ago.

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