Bush signing statement on US-India nuclear deal erases Congressional restrictions

Michael Roston
Published: Tuesday December 19, 2006
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Hours after signing an agreement yesterday on cooperation with India on civilian nuclear technology, President George W. Bush issued a "signing statement" insisting that the executive branch was not bound by terms of the agreement approved by the House of Representatives and Senate, RAW STORY has learned.

The "Henry Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act" was signed following a year of difficult negotiations with the Congress over the terms of the agreement. The agreement between the US and India itself took years to achieve. Critics of the agreement warned that it would send a bad message to states like Iran who may be on the threshold of a nuclear weapon capability. They also worry that by making it possible for India to access larger supplies of nuclear fuel for use in its civil nuclear power plants, the deal will free up that country's small existing uranium supplies for use by its military.

But President Bush was unfazed in explaining his reasons for supporting the agreement, first and foremost emphasizing the benefits for the bilateral relationship between the US and India. He also used the legislation as an opportunity to promote the value of the use of nuclear energy by both states. Moreover, he reasoned "the bill will help keep America safe by paving the way for India to join the global effort to stop the spread of nuclear weapons."

To make these improvements in the bilateral relationship possible, President Bush pledged that "As part of the agreement, the United States and India have committed to take a series of steps to make nuclear cooperation a reality, and we're going to fulfill these commitments. The bill I sign today is one of the most important steps, and it's going to help clear the way for us to move forward with this process."

However, a reading of the presidential signing statement which came later in the day made unclear the strength of some of those commitments, especially those made to Congress. In all, President Bush took exception to nine full sections of the bill approved by Congress.

First, President Bush took particular exception to a section declaring the policies of the United States, noting that his "approval of the Act does not constitute my adoption of the statements of policy as U.S. foreign policy." The statements of policy included opposition to nuclear weapons production by all non-nuclear weapons states, as well as promoting India's commitments to control the proliferation of nuclear fuel cycle technology, cooperate in preventing Iran's development of nuclear weapons, and limit expansion of existing nuclear arsenals in South Asia.

Next, President Bush said that a control placed by Congress on transfers to India of items that would run afoul of Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines "unconstitutionally delegated legislative power to an international body," and he therefore considered the section "advisory" in nature.

Then, the president declared that 8 sections of the bill in total had to be construed "in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to protect and control information that could impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative processes of the Executive, or the performance of the Executive's constitutional duties."

One section of the bill to which the president qualified his assent called on the the National Nuclear Security Administration of the US Department of Energy to engage the nuclear scientific community in India to develop cooperative nonproliferation activities, particularly with nuclear safeguards in mind. In another section of the bill, Congress had called on the president to issue determinations to Capitol Hill that India was aligning its nonproliferation policy in a manner consistent with US global nonproliferation goals, and also that civil cooperation with the US was not contributing to India's nuclear weapons program

Chris Kelley, a political science professor at Miami University of Ohio who has studied presidential signing statements closely, remarked on his personal blog last night that "All of the attention that the signing received was directed precisely where the administration wanted, and away from the sections of the bill that the President has undermined."

He added "With today's challenges, President Bush has issued a total of 137 signing statements and has made 1097 separate and distinct challenges to the provisions of the laws he has signed."

In a seeming echo of Bush's statement, Reuters reported India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as responding to domestic critics of the agreement that "India would not be bound by 'extraneous' conditions attached to the deal when it was passed by the U.S. Congress this month, rejecting efforts to constrain New Delhi's policy towards Iran or its own nuclear weapons programme."

Bush's presidential signing statement can be accessed in full at the White House website. The sections of the legislation affected by the presidential signing statement are included at this link.