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Escape hatch buoys Delhi

New Delhi, June 28: The thorny clauses in the draft US legislation on the nuclear deal with India, as of now, are not binding, foreign ministry officials said today.

The CPM has expressed fears that certain clauses in the US bill on the deal’s implementation ' which cleared one hurdle in the US Congress yesterday ' impinge on the sovereignty of India’s foreign policy and hobbles its nuclear programme.

But ministry mandarins said Delhi can ignore the intrusive provisions, because they are part of Section 3 of the bill, which makes statements of policy that are non-binding.

An official cited the clause detailing Washington’s desire for a moratorium on the production of fissile material for purposes of nuclear explosions by India. “It is simply unacceptable if made binding,” the official said.

The key concern for India at yesterday’s voting in the US House committee was that none of the intrusive clauses became part of the binding sections after the amendments.

The concern was grave as the draft bill had several such clauses ' termed “potential deal-breakers” by foreign ministry officials ' which Delhi wouldn’t have wanted on the document. “But as long as they are non-binding, India is prepared to live with it,” an official said.

An especially worrying provision, because of its political implications, was the one about Washington seeking India’s participation in dissuading, isolating and, if necessary, imposing sanctions on Iran.

The US House of Representatives International Relations Committee yesterday voted 37-5 to send the bill to the full House.

The bill lays down procedures for 123 enabling agreements and puts their passage on the fast track. Similar negotiations with China had taken more than a decade.

The key part in the draft legislation, sources suggested, is the section “Waiver Authority and Congressional Approval”. It seeks the waiver of key clauses of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to allow nuclear trade with India.

One of these is section 128 of the act, which bans export to a country unless International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards are maintained in all peaceful nuclear activities.

Another is section 129, which disallows trade with a country that has detonated a nuclear explosive device and is engaged in activities for developing explosive devices.

The waivers will come into force after India fulfils its commitments laid down in the July 18, 2005, agreement, a clause in line with Delhi’s stated position. These commitments include a separation plan, a safeguards agreement with IAEA, working for the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty and supporting the US in preventing spread of nuclear enrichment.

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