By Arshia Behnam, National Iranian American Council
Washington DC, August 01, 2006 - The House of Representatives
passed legislation on the 26th of July endorsing President Bush’s civilian
nuclear cooperation deal with India with slight modifications that include
giving Congress more oversight over the accord. The legislation (H.R.5682), which includes language
requiring India’s support for US efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear program,
passed after hours of debate by a thumping 359-68 vote.
The US-India accord reached earlier this year is one of many efforts by the Bush Administration to improve relations between the two states and to gain India’s allegiance in isolating Iran. The bill’s language requires a number of Presidential certifications and adds Congressional oversight safeguards such as monthly status consultations to check the progress of US-India nuclear talks.
Under the approved bill, the United States would transfer sensitive nuclear technology to India along with nuclear fuel supplies for safeguarded nuclear reactors. India would in turn continue their moratorium on nuclear weapons testing, agree to not transfer such technology to third parties, and separate its civilian and military nuclear programs. Additionally, India would be required to open its 14 civilian nuclear reactors to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) oversight. However, the remaining portion of India’s reactors, its 8 military facilities, would not be open to the IAEA for monitoring.
One other key provision in the bill requires India to assist the United States in its “efforts to dissuade, isolate, and, if necessary, sanction and contain Iran for its efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, including a nuclear weapons capability (including the capability to enrich or process nuclear materials), and the means to deliver weapons of mass destruction.”
This provision suggests that a facet of closer US-India nuclear relations remains contingent on India’s support for Iran’s isolation.
Critics of the bill believed it was wrong to strike deals with nuclear weapons states such as India while Iran, a signatory of the NPT, remained a target of strong criticism for its uranium enrichment program. According to Iranian government officials, Iran’s enrichment program was an inalienable NPT right that Iran was unlikely to relinquish.
In a statement, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) contended, “this administration has pursued contradictory policies with respect to the NPT, both misusing and disregarding the NPT to suit its stumbling interests. Regarding Iran, for example, the administration cited Iran for minor breaches of the NPT and is trying to rally support based on that for a military attack. At the same time, the administration itself undermines the NPT by this proposal which would help develop nuclear weapons.”
Several members of Congress argue that this discrepancy will hinder US non-proliferation efforts in the Middle East by sending inconsistent messages and that it could trigger an arms race in South Asia between India and Pakistan.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) another outspoken opponent of HR 5682 failed in his effort to send the bill back to committee for reconsideration by a vote of 192-235, “We are turning a blind eye to what India and Pakistan are doing. We are making a mockery of the international non-proliferation regime.”
HR 5682’s supporters argued that India, as the largest democracy in the world and a crucial ally of the United States. “India is peaceful,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) during debate, “Iran is continuing its mischief.” Others pointed to the fact that India, while not a signatory of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has not proliferated nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction technology, and was therefore recognized as a responsible nuclear power.
Rising in support of the bill, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) stated, “As India stands firm with the United States and our efforts to confront and eliminate the scourge of global terrorism, and to prevent the spread of dangerous nuclear technology, this bill seeks to reward and recognize India's commitment, while building upon our bilateral cooperation and strategic relationship to address broader U.S. national security priorities.”
Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), echoed Rep. Kucinich’s concern in front of the House arguing that her opposition to the legislation “is about how the Bush administration has made a mockery of the NPT and encouraged other countries to go around the treaty. Basically, the bill says that if a country ignores the NPT, the United States will cut a deal down the road. If anything, the U.S. is contributing to global nuclear proliferation with this agreement.”
The Washington Post reported on the July 29 that the House was improperly held in the dark regarding sanctions placed by the Bush administration on two Indian firms for selling missile technology to Iran. Democrats and arms control experts were angered by the withholding of information by the Bush administration. The Washington Post quoted Rep. Markey as stating, “The Bush administration deliberately deceived Congress by withholding information about these violations by Indian companies before we voted.”
A Senate bill (S 3709), which resembles the House version already cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is likely to be considered in September when the chamber returns from the summer recess.
For more information on this bill, visit the House Rules Committee website at: http://www.rules.house.gov/109_2nd/specialrules2nd109/1092ndhr5682.htm
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