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Top US senator vows to scuttle N-deal

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
June 26, 2006 18:16 IST
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A senior United States senator has vowed to do everything he can to scuttle the legislation on the India-US nuclear deal when it is brought to the Senate floor.

'If I cannot stop it, I'll slow it down a lot,' pledged three-term Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota state and chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.

In a strong indication that he intends to filibuster -- a Congressional maneuver where a lawmaker on the floor can keep talking about a piece of legislation for days with the intent to sabotage an up-or-down vote on a particular bill or presidential nomination -- Dorgan said, 'We'll have a long discussion about what the responsibility is in this country about stopping the spread of nuclear weapons in this day and age of terrorism.'

'The N-deal is not justified'

The US-India deal 'undermines a whole range of things that we have done for a long, long period,' he said. Instead of 'trying to give teeth to the Nonproliferation Treaty, we are off making deals with India.'

'Yes, India is a fine country. I want India to be a friend of ours. (But) I am not willing to abrogate the Nonproliferation Treaty and say, it's all right, what you did behind the drapes to produce nuclear weapons outside of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.'

'That's not all right with us,' he said. 'Yes, that's exactly what the deal with India is signaling --we'll give you the technology, we'll give you the capability, you allow inspectors to 14 plants in the future, and you can have eight plants that you have behind the curtains to produce additional weapons and that's fine because the geopolitics lead us to believe it's more important.'

This deal 'is profoundly wrong and it's going to injure this country's national security in a profound way,' the senator said, echoing the US nonproliferation lobby which is vehemently opposed to the deal.

Taking a swipe at the likes of Senators Richard Lugar, the Indiana Republican who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and fellow Democrat, Senator Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Committee, Dorgan said, 'There are people here already working on this legislation to approve a deal that hasn't yet been written in all of its details.'

'N-deal will not affect India's nuclear arsenal'

Describing it as 'a serious, serious breach of faith of our responsibility to stop the spread of nuclear weapons,' he said 'there's nothing more important in the day of terrorism than making certain that we never ever have a nuclear weapon detonated in a major American city.'

'How do you do that? You stop the spread of nuclear weapons. You reduce the stockpile of nuclear weapons and you make sure that we provide the aggressive, assertive, leadership to try to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorist, safeguard existing stocks, even as we try to reduce the number -- that's our responsibility.'

It was in South Asia that terrorists could acquire a nuclear weapon, since 'it is the home to Al Qaeda,' he said. And in such a volatile area as the subcontinent, 'it is almost incomprehensible to me that the administration has agreed to a nuclear deal with India -- a country that did not sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.'

The deal would 'gut the Nonproliferation Treaty and allow New Delhi to dramatically expand its stockpile of nuclear weapons,' in addition to igniting 'another regional arms race of nuclear weapons,' he said.

It would also give 'legitimacy to the arsenal that India has secretly developed,' and be detrimental to 'US efforts to convince other countries to give up their secret nuclear programs,' he felt.

Instead of leveraging India's request for help to address its acute energy requirements by 'seeking to get India to sign the Nonproliferation Treaty and cap its nuclear weapons program, the administration initials an agreement that legitimises India's nuclear weapons, which will make it substantially easier through this agreement for India to produce more weapons-grade nuclear material that it will need to make more nuclear weapons.'

'India can make 50 N-warheads a year'

'I don't understand this at all. I was dumbfounded to discover what the Administration has done in secret with no consultation at all,' he said.

Dorgan attacked India's separation plan, saying by not putting eight of its 22 reactors under safeguards, India would have them 'behind the curtain, allowed to produce nuclear fuel, enriched uranium, and allowed to produce nuclear weapons, the number of which we won't know.'

The Bush administration would thus be culpable of giving New Delhi the green light to produce 'unlimited amounts of fissile material at facilities not protected by these safeguards.'

It is regrettable that 'we seek exception to the rules for a country with which the United States wishes to build a special friendship,' and 'this nuclear deal will reinforce the impression that our approach to nonproliferation has become selective, self-serving and is inconsistent and unprincipled,' he said.

'US may have undermined NPT by N-deal'

'This deal will send a signal, that the United States, the country the world has always looked to as the leader in the global fight to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, is now de-emphasising nonproliferation and giving it a back seat to other foreign policy and other commercial concerns. I think that's a huge mistake,' he said.

'If the US is seen as changing or bending the rules when they longer suit us, others will want to follow suit. Pakistan has said, us, too, we'd like some of that,' he pointed out.

He also informed his colleagues during his soliloquy on the Senate floor that not long after the US-India deal was announced, 'China and Pakistan began discussing additional reactors sales.'

'It is an insult to call this a rubber stamp,' he said, adding that he could not understand 'why this Congress will not decide that it has a voice. That this Congress, even before the agreement is fully written, has said, sign us up to say yes, of course, we agree, this friendship, the geo-politics of this friendship is certainly more important than restraining the growth of nuclear weapons or the spread of nuclear weapons.'

This deal, he concluded, is 'the most significant mistake -- and there have been very significant mistakes in recent years -- but this is one of the most significant mistakes I can conceive of.'

The nuclear deal | The Nuclear Chats

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC