THE US House of Representatives has passed a civilian nuclear pact with India that lifts a three decade-old ban on civilian nuclear trade.
The agreement, passed by a 298-117 vote, will now head to the Senate for its vote, but it was unclear if it would be passed before Congress adjourns ahead of the November 4 elections.
Signed by President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in July 2005, the deal offers India access to Western technology and cheap atomic energy provided it allows UN nuclear inspections of some of its nuclear facilities.
“The passage of this legislation by the House is another major step forward in achieving the transformation of the US-India relationship,” said Mr Bush, urging Senate now to adopt the Bill.
The deal has faced criticism from opponents who argue that India, which first tested an atomic weapon in 1974, is not a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Representative Edward Markey, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, denounced the vote, saying in a statement: “This is a terrible Bill that threatens the future of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.”
He argued during a late night debate yesterday that opposing the Bill did not mean opposing India.
“This is a debate about Iran. This is a debate about North Korea, about Pakistan, about Venezuela, about any other country in the world that harbours the goal of acquiring nuclear weapons,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sought to allay any lasting concerns, saying the legislation would boost US oversight on any US civilian nuclear assistance to the South Asian nation.
She welcomed the vote saying in a statement that the accord “furthers our countries’ strategic relationship while balancing nuclear non-proliferation concerns and India’s growing energy needs.
“The legislation recognises India’s past support for non-proliferation initiatives and strengthens congressional oversight of any future US decision to assist India’s civilian nuclear program.”
New Delhi, which is critically short of energy to fuel its booming economy and its burgeoning population of 1.1 billion people, is looking at investments worth billions of dollars in its power sector.
If the Senate endorses the agreement it would finally end a three decades-old ban on nuclear trade with India imposed after it carried out its first nuclear test in 1974 and refused to sign the NPT.