By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent
Thu May 11, 2006 5:11 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A leading Democratic lawmaker said on Thursday
that a landmark U.S.-India nuclear deal lacks the necessary support to
pass the Congress and he put forward a compromise intended to keep the
But a senior U.S. official said the administration believes it still
can win congressional approval of the deal without the delays and
"legislative hurdles" California Rep. Tom Lantos (news, bio, voting
record)' proposal would create.
Under the initiative announced by Lantos, senior Democrat on the House
of Representatives International Relations Committee, Congress would
welcome the deal, which would permit U.S. civil nuclear technology
sales to India for the first time in three decades.
But the proposal would delay making critical changes in U.S. law until
the two countries negotiated a formal peaceful nuclear cooperation
agreement -- implementing a political deal struck by the U.S. and
Indian leaders last July -- and until India agreed on a system of
inspections of its civil nuclear facilities by the International
Atomic Energy Agency.
Only then would Congress expedite its approval of critical changes in
the U.S. Atomic Energy Act with a yes or no vote that would bar
amendments that could further delay or scuttle the deal, a senior aide
to Lantos told reporters.
This is similar to the "fast track" mechanism that Congress has often
used to act on trade deals.
The administration, which considers the accord key to improved ties
with rising Asian power India, has met considerable resistance after
pushing Congress to quickly change the atomic energy act even before
the implementing agreement and the IAEA "safeguards" accord are
"The administration's suggested legislation to implement this bold
nuclear deal -- which I fully support -- does not have the wide and
bipartisan backing it needs," Lantos told an international relations
There are too few days left on the legislative calendar to resolve the
problems so "we need to come up with a compromise that will keep the
momentum for this important agreement moving forward," he said.
State Department counselor Philip Zelikow, reacting to Lantos'
proposal, said "right now our view is to handle this differently."
Zelikow told the American Enterprise Institute think tank that Lantos'
objectives could be realized within the legislation the administration
has already put forward.
He expressed optimism Congress would approve the nuclear deal,
although he acknowledged uncertainty about when that might happen and
whether lawmakers would put conditions on it.
Zelikow said Washington and New Delhi both must do more to ensure the
agreement is enacted.
Many American non-proliferation experts and lawmakers have expressed
serious concerns about the U.S.-India deal, arguing it could allow
India to increase its nuclear weapons stockpile.
India never signed the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, developing
weapons in contravention of international norms.
Democratic Rep. Howard Berman (news, bio, voting record) of California
announced plans to introduce amendments to the administration bill,
including a demand that Congress retain the right to approve the
nuclear cooperation agreement by a majority vote.
The administration approach would avoid the enhanced scrutiny Congress
envisioned for such agreements, Democratic Rep. Edward Markey (news,
bio, voting record) of Massachusetts told the hearing.
Attempting to undercut such sentiments, Lantos said his proposal would
reassure India while "not compromising" Congress' oversight role.
"The Indian government... needs the confidence that we will adopt the
necessary legislation in order to negotiate the final details of this
agreement with the United States," he said.
The agreement has also come under attack in India.