Vice President Dick Cheney Thursday urged senior lawmakers to help win congressional support for a controversial U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement as opponents launched a grass-roots campaign to scuttle the deal.
Meanwhile, legislation prepared for action next week by a key House of Representatives committee would require India to strongly support U.S. efforts to halt Iran's nuclear ambitions and would bar lawmakers from amending the formal peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement still under negotiation by Washington and New Delhi.
The draft bill, which was obtained by Reuters, is "much closer to the Bush administration's initial cut than things that were being talked about" earlier by some lawmakers, said a congressional analyst who closely followed the drafting process.
The deal, granting nuclear-armed India access to U.S. nuclear fuel and reactors for the first time in 30 years, was agreed in principle by President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last July 18 but has come under attack in both capitals.
After a period in which U.S. critics appeared to have the momentum, supporters seem confident the U.S. Congress will approve the agreement next month. But opponents have not given up the fight and diplomats say there are deep reservations in the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which also must approve the agreement.
Committee action possible next week
The House of Representatives International Relations Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are to begin voting on two different draft bills next week.
"We hope Congress will move quickly to enact legislation that enables our two nations to move forward on this important agreement without delay," Cheney told a day-long meeting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that was part of a coordinated effort to build support for the deal.
He urged leaders of the Indian-American Caucus -- led in the Senate by Republican John Cornyn of Texas and Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and in the House by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Democrat Gary Ackerman of New York -- to "help usher through a critical agreement that benefits both the United States and our friends in India."
India and non-proliferation
Meanwhile, Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who co-chairs the Bipartisan Task Force on Non-proliferation, launched a grass-roots campaign with the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a peace lobby, to defeat the deal.
Markey acknowledged India is not North Korea or Iran but a friend, whose ties with the United States are likely to grow stronger.
But India has never signed the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, refuses to accept full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards and has a small but growing nuclear arsenal and hence the deal would put the United States in violation of its NPT obligations, he said in a press release.
Markey called the agreement "one of the greatest threats" to the NPT and a "dangerous" proposal.
The House bill, sponsored by Republican committee chairman Henry Hyde of Illinois and Democrat Tom Lantos of California, call for India's "full participation" in U.S. efforts to "dissuade, isolate and, if necessary, sanction and contain Iran's efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon capability, the capability to produce other weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver such weapons."
The legislation would set strict criteria so other states -- like Pakistan -- which have developed nuclear weapons outside of the NPT regime cannot qualify for nuclear cooperation with the United States, and would allow a U.S. president to halt cooperation if India tests another nuclear weapon.