|Lugar: Troublemaker, (below) Saran: US trip off
Washington, Sept. 8: The Indo-US nuclear deal, in which New Delhi and Washington have invested thousands of working hours and a fund of political capital since July 18, 2005, is threatening to unravel days before a final vote in the US Senate.
The new threat, ironically, has nothing to do with India.
The legislation is getting caught up in internecine warfare within the Republican Party and domestic US politics weeks before America’s mid-term Congressional elections.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked foreign secretary Shyam Saran to rush to Washington on Monday to rescue the deal, but then had second thoughts about appearing to interfere in a domestic US political dispute and decided to put off Saran’s visit, sources in the external affairs ministry said.
The latest threat along the nuclear deal’s bumpy ride from the White House to Capitol Hill centres on an unexpected decision by the Republican chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, Richard Lugar, to promote his pet non-proliferation issue piggy-backing on the legislation that has to be passed clearing the deal with India.
Lugar has attached a sub-title to the bill dealing with India, which will require the Bush administration to adhere to the “additional protocol” with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The Senate ratified the additional protocol two years ago, but is yet to pass enabling legislation for its implementation.
Lugar is trying to do this through the backdoor, using the nuclear deal with India. Sensing an unexpected opportunity to embarrass the Bush administration and the Republican Party in an election year, Joe Biden, the senior-most Democrat on the committee, agreed to go along with Lugar.
But now several conservative Republican Senators are up in arms on this issue and want Lugar and Biden to hive off the sub-title — “Title two” — from the India-specific legislation.
Two prominent Republican Senators, Jon Kyl and John Ensign, are understood to have threatened to block the India bill in the Senate indefinitely as long as the sub-title on additional protocol is part of it, sources on Capitol Hill said.
The issue has the potential to be a political hot potato during the mid-term election campaign.
Ironically, the question of America’s adherence to the IAEA protocol raises exactly the same issues which Indian opponents of the nuclear deal with the US have campaigned against. Kyl and Ensign have let it be known that the protocol will tie Washington’s hands from launching pre-emptive actions against the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea.
They also fear that the protocol will give the IAEA a greater role in the nuclear affairs of the US, which is an unpopular idea with the American public, especially after September 11, 2001.
Lugar and Biden are, however, determined, at least for now, that this is an opportunity to push through their extraneous agenda in the Congress.
Bill Frist, the Republican leader in the Senate, is keen to see the India bill out of the way and wants to schedule a final vote in the third week of September, but unless the sub-title issue is sorted out, that may not happen.
The current Senate has just over three weeks of life left and if the vote is not taken now, it can only be done during what is known as a short “lameduck” session after the November poll.
But if Democrats seize control of the Senate in November, a “lameduck” vote on the India bill will lack the necessary moral or political authority to see through the implementation of the nuclear deal.