It was 37 for and 5 against

WASHINGTON: The International Relations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday endorsed a plan to share civilian nuclear technology with India, a crucial first step towards approval of the deal between the two nations.

Supporters called it a defining moment in the U.S.-India relations but a Republican lawmaker said the deal ``knifed'' the Non-Proliferation Treaty and called it a sad day for efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

The 37-5 vote in the committee was for legislation to exempt India from the U.S. laws that restrict nuclear trade with countries that have not submitted themselves to full nuclear inspections.

India developed its nuclear arms programme outside the NPT, which it has not signed.

For Senate panel

Separate legislation on the deal is to be considered on Thursday by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Full House and Senate will have to approve legislation, and then reconcile differences between their bills.

While the Bill enjoyed support from several major lawmakers, some were sceptical.

Republican Jim Leach said passage of the plan would open the door for ``a whole host'' of countries to press claims for similar nuclear cooperation. He mentioned both friendly nations South Korea and Japan and those the U.S. considers unsavoury Iran and North Korea.

``The NPT has been knifed by an executive action,'' Mr. Leach said. ``Anyone who wants to present this as a happy day is making a very serious mistake.''

The lawmakers considered Tuesday legislation as one based on an original Bill proposed by the Bush administration. Henry Hyde, Republican chairman of the House Committee, said the earlier Bill was ``profoundly unsatisfactory'' because it removed Congress' oversight role.

While the agreement, announced on March 2 by President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, determined a crucial part of the plan separating India's civilian and military nuclear facilities the two countries still must negotiate conditions, duration and scope of the overall cooperation plan.

Mr. Hyde and Tom Lantos, committee's top Democrat and supporter of the plan, said Tuesday's legislation would strengthen Congress' role by having lawmakers vote only after they had seen a final version of the plan with India.

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