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Friday, September 26, 2008

Prospects for nuclear deal uncertain in Congress

A landmark agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation between India and the U.S. has been a high priority for President Bush and the Indian government, but time is running out as lawmakers wrap up this year's session to campaign for the November elections.

And the bill faces long odds.

A Senate committee overwhelmingly approved a bill on the nuclear agreement this week, but the measure has not been presented to the full Senate or in the House.

In remarks at the start of an Oval Office meeting Thursday with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Bush said the deal is an example of how the U.S.-India relationship has changed for the better during his administration.

"It has taken a lot of work on both our parts, a lot of courage on your part," Bush said, looking toward Singh. "Of course we want the agreement to satisfy you. We have to get it out of our Congress. We are working hard to get it passed as quickly as possible."

The pact would allow the U.S. to sell nuclear materials to a country that has tested nuclear weapons but has refused to sign international treaties designed to limit the illicit spread of such materials. The accord would reverse three decades of U.S. policy by shipping atomic fuel to India in return for international inspections of India's civilian, but not its military, reactors.

India has faced a nuclear trade ban since its first atomic test in 1974.

In a sign of the difficulty facing the measure, Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the deal poses unacceptable risks to U.S. national security.

"Unbelievably, if India tests a new nuclear weapon, the deal does not cut off their supply," Markey said in a statement.

Supporters had hoped to have it included in a broader spending bill Wednesday, but the legislation passed the House without it.

The House and the Senate would have to pass the bill and send it to Bush for the deal to go through before a new administration takes office in January. The last-minute attempt comes as Congress debates the bank bailout plan and rushes to pass numerous important measures before shutting down for the year.

This month, the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group of countries that supply nuclear material and technology agreed to lift the ban on civilian nuclear trade with India, the last necessary step before Congress could consider the deal. The ban was imposed because India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and has developed nuclear weapons.

The administration has warned that failure to ratify the deal would keep U.S. companies from doing business in India's multibillion-dollar nuclear energy sector.

(Source: AP)

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