Rice pitches India nuclear plan to wary Congress | VailDaily.com

Rice pitches India nuclear plan to wary Congress

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought to assure a wary Congress on Wednesday that a landmark plan to share nuclear technology with India for its civilian program won’t undercut efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.”Clearly, this agreement does not constrain India’s nuclear weapons program. That was not its purpose,” Rice told a House committee. “Neither, however, as some critics have suggested, does it enhance India’s capability to build nuclear weapons.”In the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike expressed serious reservations over the plan and criticized what they called the Bush administration’s failure to explain its details to lawmakers earlier.”It is my view that this is in trouble here,” said Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., who supports the plan but criticized how the administration has handled it.The administration needs Congress to change, or approve an exception to, the law that bans civilian nuclear cooperation with countries that have not submitted to full nuclear inspections. India continues to refuse to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.Despite concerns, some lawmakers from both political parties indicated they would back the plan because of an overall goal of strengthening the U.S.-India relationship.”This is a very good bet for our country,” said Sen. George Allen, R-Va.Others weren’t swayed.”I fear that this deal could end up making our world less safe rather than more safe,” said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.Rice testified on the plan during back-to-back hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House International Relations Committee. The administration is pursuing the proposal in part because it sees India as an ally in a region now dominated by China.Considered a major U.S. policy shift, the plan calls for the United States to share nuclear technology and fuel with India to help power its rapidly growing economy. India, for its part, agreed to allow U.N. inspections of its civilian nuclear reactors. India’s nuclear weapons facilities would be off limits.Critics on and off Capitol Hill contend the plan could dramatically increase India’s nuclear arsenal and weaken decades of efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.Rice rejected those arguments, saying the plan will help fulfill the energy needs of a country that has been “a responsible actor” with regard to its nuclear technologies.”Civil nuclear cooperation with India will not lead to an arms race in South Asia,” Rice told the Senate panel. “Nothing we or any other potential international suppliers provide to India under this initiative will enhance its military capacity or add to its military stockpile.”Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the Senate committee chairman and a longtime nonproliferation advocate, praised the plan for allowing more inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog. But he also expressed concern that “it would not prevent India from expanding its nuclear arsenal.”In the same vein, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., noted that eight of India’s 22 nuclear plants would not be open to U.N. inspectors, “and they will be producing large amounts of nuclear material.”Still, two senior Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden of Delaware and John Kerry of Massachusetts, signaled they were inclined to vote for the agreement, albeit reluctantly.”It comes down to a simple bet we’re making,” said Biden, the panel’s top Democrat. “It’s a bet that India appreciates, as much as we do, that the two nations have the potential to be the anchors for stability and security in the world going into the 21st century.”In both the House and the Senate, lawmakers questioned the relationship between India and Iran. “Iran is the most troubling aspect of this deal,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.The lawmakers pointed to energy cooperation between the two countries and port calls that Iranian vessels have made on India.”In whose best interest is this?” asked Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I. He said it appeared that the United States wanted to change U.S. law simply to impede India’s oil and gas relationship with Iran.Not so, Rice said. The goal of the plan is to create a “strategic partnership” with India on technology, energy and economic issues.Rep. Tom Lantos, the House committee’s top Democrat and a supporter of the plan, warned that India-Iran military cooperation could derail it in Congress. “There can be no equivocation on India’s part regarding Iran under its current management,” said Lantos, D-Calif.In a tense exchange with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., on the same issue, Rice acknowledged that India has some “low-level military-to-military contacts with Iran.”But, she said: “The United States has made very clear to India that we have concerns about their relationship with Iran.””I just think your words are a bit hollow,” Boxer responded. “This deal has to have more checks and balances.”Vail, Colorado

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