``Bill will eventually bring India into NPT''

Spells out the obligations India has to meet under the deal Hearing may begin by month-endAgreement expands IAEA reach: Condoleezza Rice

WASHINGTON: The Bush administration on Thursday introduced a Bill in the U.S. Congress seeking an amendment to the Atomic Energy Act to help implement the nuclear cooperation deal with India.

"This is a very important agreement for the future of India-America relations and for America," Nicholas Burns, Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, told reporters. "It is [a] net gain for non-proliferation and will eventually bring India into the NPT regime," he said.

Senator Richard Lugar introduced the Bill in the Senate, while Henry Hyde placed it in the House of Representatives.

Referring to India's track record of control on nuclear export, Mr. Burns said: "India has an excellent record."

Responding to the criticism that the India-U.S. civil nuclear agreement or the exception made to India, which is not a signatory to the NPT, on nuclear cooperation set a bad precedent for countries such as Iran, he said: "Not a single country has come forward and said that the deal had had an impact on the way they think about Iran."

The U.S. was in touch with a number of countries of the Nuclear Supply Group. France, the United Kingdom and Russia supported the deal, as did International Atomic Energy Agency chief ElBaradei. The legislative process for approving the nuclear deal would go on for several months. "It is somewhat a lengthy process."

Mr. Burns said the Bush administration was encouraged by the number of Senators and Congressmen who supported the agreement and held out the hope that more would gradually "sign on as co-sponsors" of the Bill.

He spelt out the obligations India had to meet under the deal including placing three to four of its reactors under IAEA supervision and separation of its civilian and military nuclear facilities.

After Congressional recess, the two chambers are expected to start hearing on the legislation possibly at the end of this month.

The administration delivered its draft proposal to Congressmen last week, seeking a waiver for India from the requirements of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 that bars nuclear technology and dual-use items trade with countries that do not accept full-scope safeguards on their nuclear facilities.

"A non-proliferator"

Hours before the introduction of the Bill, U.S. President George W. Bush said in Maryland that India "has been a is a non-proliferator, has proven to be a non-proliferator for the past 30 years. In other words, they've got a record, and in my judgment should cause the Congress to pass old law to treat them as a new partner."

India wants to be a part of international agreements that will help deal with proliferation, he said, making a strong case for approval of the pact in Congress.

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Sydney that the agreement "strengthens security by expanding the reach" of the IAEA "to have access to Indian civil nuclear facilities which it currently does not have."

Ms. Rice added: "Everyone understands a growing economy like India needs energy supply. Civil nuclear energy is clean, it protects the environment and it can be plentiful. Currently, India is not capable of pursuing civil nuclear power to the degree that it will need to." PTI