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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Objections on US-India nuclear deal overcome

Senators have agreed to vote Wednesday on a U.S.-India nuclear cooperation accord, clearing a major hurdle that had been blocking consideration of the landmark pact that would overturn 30 years of U.S. nonproliferation policy.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told his colleagues late Tuesday that the Senate also would consider two amendments seeking to deal with the U.S. reaction should India conduct another atomic test. The amendments reflect an attempt to make sure U.S. nuclear exports do not help boost India's nuclear weapons program.

The accord would allow American civilian nuclear trade with India in exchange for safeguards and U.N. inspections at India's civilian nuclear plants. Military plants would be off-limits. Opponents say the Senate has failed to examine carefully a deal that could spark an atomic arms race in Asia.

The accord, a top priority of President Bush, enjoys wide support from senior lawmakers in both parties and was approved by the House on Saturday.

It had stalled in the Senate, and Reid's announcement Tuesday came after behind-the-scenes wrangling designed to ease the qualms of at least one unidentified senator who had blocked a vote.

Lawmakers working to deal with a financial crisis gripping the United States are eager to leave Washington to campaign for the November elections. Reid ratcheted up pressure for quick action on the India deal, suggesting that he might call senators back to work in about two weeks for a vote on the accord if objections were not cleared up soon.

A draft of a Senate amendment obtained by The Associated Press from an e-mail to senators would require the U.S. president, should India detonate a nuclear weapon, to certify that no American technology or material supplied under the accord was used in the explosion. Another draft amendment would stop U.S. nuclear trade if India should detonate a nuclear device.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she hoped to get the deal settled.

"It would be a way to solidify what has been an extraordinary period in which U.S.-Indian relations have reached the kind of deepening that is really appropriate for two of the world's largest and great democracies," she told reporters at the State Department.

The deal received a boost this month when the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group of countries that supply nuclear material and technology agreed to lift a ban on civilian nuclear trade with India.

Critics say the plan would allow India to use the extra nuclear fuel that the deal would provide to free up domestic uranium for its weapons program

India built its bombs outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which allows civil nuclear trade in exchange for a pledge from nations not to pursue nuclear weapons. The country has faced a nuclear trade ban since its first atomic test in 1974.

Sharon Squassoni, a nonproliferation analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, "This kind of congressional approval is a farce, and the reason why it's happening is the tremendous political pressure being exerted by the Bush administration on behalf of the Indian government" and Indian-American political action committees.

(Source: AP)

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