It's a 16-2 vote for Bill; second hurdle cleared

John Kerry speaks up for India's non-proliferation recordAll Republican Senators vote for legislationBoth chambers of Congress have to vote on the deal

Washington: The New Delhi-Washington nuclear deal cleared another hurdle on Thursday with a United States Senate panel overwhelmingly voting in favour of sharing civilian nuclear technology and knowhow with India.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee took just 90 minutes to endorse the U.S.-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act by a 16-2 vote.

The nod came two days after the deal crossed its first major hurdle, securing the approval of the International Relations Committee in the House of Representatives in a 37-5 vote.

The votes make it likely that both chambers of Congress will approve the agreement when it is placed before them. This is expected to take place before Congress goes into recess in August.

Amendment rejected

Of the three amendments proposed in the Senate Committee, two were approved by voice vote while one was rejected.

By a convincing margin of 13-5, the committee rejected an amendment by Democrat Senator Russell Feingold requiring U.S. President George W. Bush to certify that India would not divert nuclear fuel for its weapons programme.

The Committee gave its nod for an amendment by Lincoln Chaffee, Republican from Rhode Island, that the U.S. was not supporting India's nuclear weapons programme directly or indirectly.

Piloted by Democrat Barak Obama from Illinois, the second amendment, which was endorsed, sought U.S. assurance that other nations would not step in to help India if it carried out any action such as an atomic test, triggering a halt in American nuclear supplies. Both accepted amendments are non-binding on India.

Senators Barbara Boxer and Fiengold voted against the Bill, while all Republican Senators voted for the legislation.

The Foreign Relations Committee has 18 members 10 Republicans and eight Democrats.

The Bill, sponsored by Senate Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, seeks to exempt U.S. export of nuclear materials, equipment and technology to India from certain requirements under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.

Turning point

Several Senators described the deal, agreed upon by Mr. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in July last and finalised during Mr. Bush's India visit this March, as a turning point in India-U.S. relationship.

John Kerry, who was the Democrat Presidential candidate, spoke up for India's non-proliferation record.

Fienegold's amendment was termed by George Allen ``a potential deal breaker'' and warned that India could walk away from the agreement if such a step received approval.

IAEA inspections

Under the deal, India will allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspections and safeguards in 14 of the 22 nuclear reactors, which have been designated as civilian. The remaining eight military facilities will not be subject to international inspections.

For its part, the U.S. has agreed to supply nuclear technology and fuel to India and to convince the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers' Group to relax its export guidelines. The Atomic Energy Act 1954 prevents the U.S. from exporting nuclear knowhow to nations that have not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This law has to be amended for the nuclear deal to be implemented.

U.S. policy

The Bill said it would be the policy of the U.S. to achieve ``as quickly as possible a cessation of the production by India and Pakistan of fissile materials for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices.''

Washington would also seek to ``achieve as quickly as possible India's full participation in the Proliferation Technology Initiative and formal commitment to the Statement of Interdiction Principles.'' Also, the U.S. should ensure that India complied with its non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament agreements.

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