Washington, June 27: A key committee today took the first step toward US Congressional approval of the nuclear cooperation deal with India.
The House of Representatives International Relations Committee (HIRC) voted 37 to 5 to send legislation endorsing the deal and making changes in US law to the full House, where action is expected next month.
The vote followed a clash between supporters and opponents of the deal as the 53-member HIRC began considering new legislation to exempt India from several requirements of America’s Atomic Energy Act of 1954.
The committee conclusively rejected several amendments tabled by uncompromising opponents of the deal.
Regretting that the HIRC was ready to exempt India from America’s stiff non-proliferation standards, Republican Congressman Jim Leach said “today is a sad day” in the history of the global effort to contain weapons of mass destruction.
He said approving Indo-US civilian nuclear trade would open the doors to “a whole host of countries to press claims for similar nuclear cooperation”.
Henry Hyde, the Republican chairman of the HIRC, and Tom Lantos, the committee’s senior-most Democrat, retorted that they had changed the legislation originally proposed by the Bush administration to increase Congressional oversight of the deal.
President George W. Bush will sign into law the exemptions once the Senate and the House of Representatives pass their respective bills and reconcile these into a single legislation.
The bill that was taken up today replaces the original legislation moved on March 16 on behalf of the Bush administration, but met with considerable resistance from a combination of non-proliferation activists, bleeding hearts, Iran-haters and supporters of other similar causes.
Nicholas Burns, the Bush administration’s top nuclear negotiator with India, said in the run-up to today’s vote that New Delhi would be required to take at least three key steps before it can benefit from civilian nuclear energy cooperation with Washington even after the enabling bills are passed on Capitol Hill.