The proceedings began with the tabling of House Resolution 947, which sought for consideration of HR5682. When this was put to vote it passed with a margin of 311-112 with 9 abstentions. Of this Republicans voted for by a margin 224-1 and Democrats voted against the motion by 87-110.
This set the tone for the whole session with democratic support for the bill lagging well behind the Republican one raising question marks over whether the said Bill is really a bi-partisan effort after all.
Four important amendments and one motion to the Bill were introduced. Two were passed and two other amendments and the motion which were termed as “deal breakers” were defeated.
The First amendment was introduced by Representative Cliff Stearns(R-FL). It was “to reinforce the intent of the congress that the Nuclear Cooperation into which the two governments would enter is for peaceful, productive purposes, and not military“. This amendment passed by a voice vote and was later confirmed with a recorded vote which was unanimous 414-0. 219 Republicans and 194 democrats voted in favour while 11 Republicans and 7 Democrats abstained.
The Second amendment was introduced by Representative Brad Sherman(D- California). It said “before any nuclear cooperation with India can go forward, and every year thereafter, the President must certify that during the preceding year India has not increased the level of domestic uranium it sends through its weapons program“. This was one of the “deal breaker” amendments which had been voted down before in the House International Relations committee(HIRC). It was voted down again in a voice vote and a later recorded vote with a margin of 268-155. Again with more republicans than democrats voting against it. 201 Republicans and 67 democrats voted against. While 25 republicans and 129 Democrats voted for this “deal breaker” amendment.
The Third amendment was moved by Representative Howard Berman(D- California). It required that the House vote ‘to restrict exports of uranium and other types of nuclear reactor fuel (defined as ‘source material’ and ‘special nuclear material’ in the Atomic Energy Act of 1954) to India until the President determines that India has halted the production of fissile material (that is, plutonium and highly enriched uranium) for use in nuclear weapons’.
This amendment too was termed a “deal breaker” and had been voted down in the HIRC. It was defeated again by a voice vote and a later recorded vote with a margin of 241-184. Again more republicans than democrats opposed this amendment. 189 Republicans and 52 Democrats voted against. 37 Republicans and 146 democrats voted in favour of the amendment.
The Fourth Amendment was moved by Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nevada), that sought to provide Congress with the ability to assess, to the extent possible, whether annual levels of India’s nuclear fissile production may imply a possible violation of Article I of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. After debate, the amendment was agreed to by voice vote.
Finally Congressman Ed Markey (Democrat, Massachusetts) introduced a motion to recommit the bill to the House International Relations Committee ‘with instructions’ in other words, send it back with the requirement that it be rewritten before being voted on.
Markey required to attach a new paragraph, which states that the President must certify that India is fully and actively participating in US efforts to dissuade, isolate, and, if necessary, sanction and contain Iran for its efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, including a nuclear weapons capability (including the capability to enrich or process nuclear materials), and the means to deliver weapons of mass destruction.
This motion was defeated by a margin of 235-192. 206 Republicans voted against Markey against just 29 Democrats; a mere 22 Republicans voted in favour, while 169 Democrats voted to send the bill back to Committee.
The HR 5682 was finally passed with a margin of 359-68. Of the 68 who voted against atleast 58 were democrats.
The voting pattern illustrates clearly that this bill was not bi-partisan in nature and the democrats still have “reservations” over the Bill.
The Next step in the process is to wait for the Senate to pass its own version of the Bill. Then representatives from both houses will sit down and draw a consolidated Bill which will be given to the president for his signature after that it would become law.
But the Bill in its present form now is a cause of concern for India in the following aspects.
1. It wants the US president to report about India’s adherence to policy objectives in section 3(b) i.e., commit to the terms of the FMCT(Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty) at the earliest date. the steps taken by the US and Indian government in the previous year and to be taken in the coming year. This report has to be submitted first on January 31, 2007 and every year thereafter by the same date.
The above is nothing but rephrasing the same old cap, rollback, eliminate couched in more flowery language.
2. It wants India to adhere by the terms of MTCR, NSG and Australia group without being a member of any of those groups. Also adhere to Wassennar guidelines, UNSC resolution 1540 and participate in the proliferation security initiative.
3. Regarding reciprocity: That’s Gone with the Wind. In Section 4(d) (2) All exports of Nuclear and Nuclear related material, equipment or technology to India will be terminated if India does not confirm to NSG, MTCR or president says he just doesn’t feel like it anymore. Plus the President will be now obliged to prevent such transfers to India from any other source.
Effectively the Bill is a “deal breaker” in itself and hence it is not in India’s best interests. It should either be redone or abandoned altogether or else it could end up harming India’s strategic interests irrepairably and also damage Indo-US relations.