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Top advocate of US-India nuke deal has yet to see text
Michael Roston
Published: Tuesday July 31, 2007

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Staff for a top Democratic advocate of a US-India nuclear cooperation agreement admitted to RAW STORY on Tuesday morning that the Bush administration had not yet showed him the text of the deal it announced last Friday.

"The Congressman has not yet seen a copy of the text of the agreement," acknowledged Lynne Weil, spokesperson from Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

She added, "It is important to Rep. Lantos that the agreement will comport with the legal requirements of the Hyde Act."

Rep. Lantos was a co-sponsor of the United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Promotion Act, which was honorarily named after Rep. Henry Hyde, the Illinois Republican who chaired the House International Relations Committee until his retirement at the end of the previous Congress.

While some nonproliferation advocates argue that the US-India nuclear cooperation scheme will undermine the global regime against the spread of nuclear weapons, champions of the deal like Rep. Lantos have argued that the Hyde Act allows the removal of a key irritant from broader US-India strategic cooperation while expanding international safeguards around the South Asian giant's civilian nuclear energy program.

A colleague of Lantos, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) slammed the Bush administration for hiding the text of the agreement last week.

"If they’re afraid of letting us read the document, then I can only surmise that it includes provisions they fear will raise the hackles of Congress," Markey said in a Friday statement, first reported on by RAW STORY on Saturday.

The State Department conducted a closed briefing for Members of Congress and their staffs last Thursday before the White House formally announced the agreement's conclusion. One congressional source who attended the briefing said that Congress will get to see the text later in August.

"We will see a text at some point, we don't have concerns about that," the source told RAW STORY. "They're still holding it back, it's a diplomatic nicety to make sure that they release it to the Congress and the Indian Parliament [which is currently not in session] simultaneously."

The Congressional staffer said that although President George W. Bush signed a presidential signing statement in December that took exception to parts of the Hyde Act, there was "no indication yet" that the Bush administration had flat out ignored any provisions of the legal restrictions Congress placed on the US-India nuclear deal.

Still, the source said that the President would have to tread carefully with its presentation of the deal.

"He's got to be careful," the Congressional staffer said about any appearance of the Bush administration invoking the presidential signing statement. "Congress has to have a vote up or down on the deal, and he's running the risk that it could impact subsequent Congressional consideration of the agreement."

As one example of an issue where Congress could object to the agreement reached by the US and India, the Congressional source pointed to India's insistence that the deal include a nuclear fuel reprocessing facility.

In last Fridays' public briefing on the US-India nuclear deal, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns acknowledged that the facility emerged in the course of negotiations and was not covered under the Hyde Act.

"There was no talk of a new reprocessing facility a year ago," Burns said on Friday. "It's just been in the last two months that this has materialized. We looked at it very carefully and decided ...that it was in our interest to go ahead."

The Congressional source said to RAW STORY that the new facility would get strict scrutiny from Capitol Hill.

"It's going to have to be pursued as a subsequent arrangement on Capitol Hill," the source said. "That's obviously one area that when we see the actual text, we'll have to go over it very carefully, and make sure there are no loopholes and that there's nothing that's subject to misinterpretation."

But the Congressional source suggested that it would be months at the very least before any of these issue were fully debated on Capitol Hill. Congress will not need to weigh in on the agreement until India negotiates a safeguards arrangement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and receives an exemption from the rules of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

"We don't expect to see that for quite some time, for years potentially," the staffer said.