By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington
FT May 4, 2006
The White House is facing serious obstacles in its bid to secure
legislation approving its landmark civilian nuclear energy agreement
Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, this week met members of the
Senate India caucus to boost support for the deal, which would allow
India to receive nuclear technology and fuel for its civilian nuclear
reactors. In exchange, India would place some facilities under
international safeguards, and separate its civilian and military
Ms Rice probably expected a sympathetic ear from the pro-India
senators, but instead met with criticism from Richard Lugar, the
Republican chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, who had
been invited to join the group.
Mr Lugar, one of the leading non-proliferation advocates in Congress,
was expected to back the administration, but according to three people
familiar with the discussions, he expressed strong reservations to Ms
Rice. He was most concerned that the White House wants Congress to
give it authority to implement the deal before lawmakers receive
details of the final agreement.
Under the arrangement, Congress could not amend the deal. While it
could cancel it, that would require an extremely unlikely two-thirds
majority to override a presidential veto. Mr Lugar was irritated when
Ms Rice professed ignorance of this.
One congressional aide said lawmakers were "astonished" that Mr Lugar
appeared willing to stand up to the administration.
Lawmakers are concerned that they are being asked to approve the deal
without knowing details such as what safeguards India will negotiate
with the International Atomic Energy Agency. They also want to see
whether the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a 45-nation body set up after
India held a nuclear test in 1974, will support the deal.
Andy Fisher, Mr Lugar's spokesman, said Mr Lugar had not reached an
opinion on the deal. He added that there were both compelling reasons
to accept the deal, and some concerns, but he said he expected the
Senate to move ahead with legislation this year.
The White House, which desperately wants a foreign policy success in
election year, received more bad news when Dennis Hastert, the
Republican House speaker, was quoted by India's media last month
during a visit to New Delhi as saying Congress would not vote on the
deal before the November midterm elections. Two people said Mr Hastert
received a reprimand from the White House over the comment.
Mr Bush has also lobbied Henry Hyde, the Republican chairman of the
House international relations committee, although one congressional
aide said he appeared not to have made up his mind. Tom Lantos, the
ranking Democrat, has expressed initial support, but he has raised
concerns about India's military relationship with Iran after New Delhi
recently allowed Iranian ships to make port calls.
Richard Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state who was
instrumental in improving US-Indian relations, said in a recent
interview with the FT that he was concerned the administration had not
secured as good a deal as possible with India.
Joseph Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate foreign relations
committee, who initially gave his tentative support, last month also
chastised the administration for not sharing information about
negotiations with India, saying the deal was not a "slam dunk".
A congressional aide who supports the deal said lawmakers were also
angry that the administration had still not responded to questions
raised when Ms Rice testified before the House international relations
committee and Senate foreign relations committee last month.
Mr Lugar's spokesman said the administration was expected to provide
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