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Congress Leery of India's Absence from Treaty


Back to today's nuclear cooperation agreement between India and the U.S., the deal won't go through unless both chambers of the U.S. Congress agree to it. Most lawmakers still know little about the pact, and those who know more are expressing strong misgivings. NPR's David Welna reports from the Capitol.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

Just one member of Congress held a news conference to respond to the U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement. For Massachusetts House Democrat Edward Markey, the deal, which allows India to keep eight military nuclear plants off limits to outside inspections, amounts to, as he put it, a historic disaster.

Representative EDWARD J. MARKEY (Democrat, Massachusetts): This agreement allows India to be an oxymoron, half weapons state, half civilian nuclear weapons state, without ever having signed the nuclear nonproliferation agreement. It's a contradiction in terms. It's carnivorous vegetarian or jumbo shrimp. It's a program that's half under safeguards, with the country that is receiving all the benefits deciding which part of its program is under the safeguards.

WELNA: Markey said the deal would allow India to make an additional 20 nuclear bombs each year, as well as keep its controversial fast breeder reactors off limits to inspectors. India's record of developing nuclear weapons was also brought up by Illinois Democrat Barack Obama at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iran's nuclear ambitions. He questioned whether the U.S. is sending mixed signals on the consequences of acquiring nuclear weapons.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): Now we're looking at a potential deal with India in which they developed it. Pakistan developed nuclear weapons and now we, you know, consider them the strongest of allies.

WELNA: Ray Takeyh, of the Council on Foreign Relations, who was a witness at the hearing, replied that the U.S. deal with India sends very bad signals to other nations.

Mr. RAY TAKEYH (Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations): The acceptance of India's nuclear program irrespective of that country's snobbing of the NPT for a long time, it is very difficult to make the case to international community and to Iranians themselves that we are serious about proliferation.

WELNA: The panel's Republican chair, Richard Lugar, argued the deal could have a downside for Iran.

Senator RICHARD G. LUGAR (Republican, Indiana): One argument with regard to helping India with this material and nuclear technology is that this may have a substitution effect with regard to their need for Iranian hydrocarbons.

WELNA: The chair of the House International Relations Committee, Henry Hyde, issued a statement saying he welcomed the nuclear deal, but added that its specific provisions will have to be examined by his committee for their potential consequences to the U.S. and others. But with Congress focused today on the Dubai ports deal, ethics and immigration reforms and finishing the Patriot Act, few other lawmakers seemed to know enough about the deal with India to pass judgment on it. Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins was one of them.

Senator SUSAN M. COLLINS (Republican, Maine): This is something I'm going to have to take a look at, but on the face of it, I viewed it as a positive development, but I really haven't looked at it in depth.

WELNA: House Democrat Markey, for his part, said he was certain that his colleagues will, with time, share his dismay with the nuclear cooperation agreement.

Rep. MARKEY: I think as the details of this deal are understood, that this deal will be looked at as a national security disaster for our country.

WELNA: Markey said the India deal would be a bookend to the Dubai ports deal, both of them raising questions about the Bush administration's handling of national security concerns. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham scoffed at comparing the India deal to the ports deal.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): Because, you know, India is a very mature country. It's a democracy. And they're a nuclear nation already.

WELNA: As is neighboring Pakistan, President Bush's next stop. Like India, it too has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.