Rice finalizing US-India civil nuclear accord

September 10, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Wednesday with India's defense minister to put finishing touches on a U.S.-India civil nuclear cooperation accord, one of President Bush's top foreign policy goals. The State Department said the Bush administration hopes to formally send Congress the deal by the end of the day. But with only about three weeks remaining before Congress leaves for the year, the administration will need the help of senior Democratic lawmakers to overcome a requirement that Congress wait 30 working days after receiving the deal before ratifying it.

Lawmakers are scheduled to leave Washington at the end of the month to campaign for November elections, and unless the 30-day requirement is scrapped would appear not to have enough days to ratify the deal.

The U.S.-India accord would reverse three decades of U.S. policy by shipping atomic fuel to India in return for international inspections of India's civilian reactors. Some in Congress are vowing a careful review of U.S.-Indian nuclear negotiations, which could doom the plan's passage this year. That would leave it in the hands of a new Congress and president, and it is unclear whether it would remain a priority.

Rice planned to meet Wednesday with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and she met with top House Democrats on Tuesday.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters that officials were still going through the internal U.S. "clearance process" necessary to formally transmit a deal from the executive to the legislative branch. India was also still working to complete final paper work needed to include in the deal submitted to Congress, he said.

McCormack said Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony and Rice were to discuss the nuclear deal and U.S.-Indian military cooperation. Antony did not respond to reporters' questions ahead of his meeting with Rice.

House Foreign Affairs chairman Howard Berman, who supports nuclear cooperation, has said that if the administration wants to speed congressional consideration, it must deal first with address problems some lawmakers have, such as what an Indian nuclear test would mean for the deal.

India has refused to sign nonproliferation agreements and has faced a nuclear trade ban since its first atomic test in 1974. But on Saturday, the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group of nations that supply nuclear material and technology agreed to lift the ban on civilian nuclear trade with India after contentious talks and some concessions to countries fearful it could set a dangerous precedent.

U.S. officials have said that selling peaceful nuclear technology to India would bring the country's atomic program under closer scrutiny. Critics say it would ruin global efforts to stop the spread of atomic weapons and boost India's nuclear arsenal.

Both presidential candidates Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain have indicated support for the accord, but it is not clear that either would give it the same attention that Bush has.


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