Friday, December 22, 2006

Bush India statement raises Congress concerns

Bush India statement raises Congress concerns
By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A statement by President Bush issued in connection with the just-signed U.S.-India civil nuclear cooperation law has raised concerns that Bush may try to circumvent some of Congress' intentions, lawmakers and analysts say.

The statement, clarifying Bush's views on law and policy, was issued after he signed legislation on Monday permitting U.S. sales of nuclear fuel and reactors to India for the first time in 30 years.

In the statement, Bush said his signature "does not constitute my adoption of the statements of policy (in the law) as U.S. foreign policy." Also in responding to reports mandated by Congress, he would consider how releasing data requested by lawmakers might "impair foreign relations."

In one of its most controversial directives, Congress stipulated in the law that presidents should report annually on India's cooperation in restraining Iran's nuclear program, which Bush has condemned as a major international threat.

"With his recent signing statement, once again the president has shown he views Congress as a nuisance rather than an equal branch of government under the Constitution," said Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, a Democrat whose party will control a majority of the new Congress to be sworn in next month.

It was "outrageous that the president has repeatedly stated the greatest threat to U.S. national security is a nuclear Iran, yet explicitly rejects Congress' declaration that it shall be the official policy of the United States that India will not use its nuclear technology to help develop Iran's nuclear weapons arsenal," Harkin said in a news release.


In the statement, Bush also said he considered as only "advisory" a congressional directive prohibiting nuclear transfers to India that conflict with guidelines of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which the United States helped establish years ago to restrain nuclear trade.

Democratic Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts said this shows Bush is "reserving the right to ignore the Nuclear Suppliers Group."

The president is "turning decades of U.S. international policy on its head -- and thumbing his nose at Congress at the same time," added Markey, co-chair of the House of Representatives task force on non-proliferation.

Separately, during a telephone conversation between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Bush on Thursday, Singh said he still had some concerns over the law.

"The Prime Minister said India still has some concerns, though many have already been expressed in the President's signing statement," said a statement from Singh's office.

Critics in India say the deal may constrain New Delhi's policy toward Iran as well as its nuclear weapons program and fails to guarantee uninterrupted fuel supplies for civilian reactors.

Before U.S. nuclear exports can begin, other approvals are needed including a Nuclear Suppliers Group decision to change its rules barring trade with India and passage of a second U.S. law.

Some non-proliferation experts worry that if the United States does not win NSG approval -- which must be by unanimous consent -- Bush will let the trade with India go forward.

The White House and State Department rejected such interpretations of Bush's statement.

Asked if Bush might ignore the NSG, a State Department official told Reuters: "No, quite the opposite."

He said that while NSG guidelines are "political commitments," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "has been very clear that we're not going to do the (nuclear) deal without consensus in the NSG."

Meanwhile, a White House official said the statement's treatment of the NSG "is not regarding any particular intended course of foreign policy or with any particular practical effect in terms of intended treatment of material (nuclear) transfer."

Rather, the statement is intended to deal with the "domestic issue of government power rather than an issue of international nuclear policy," he said.

Justice Department lawyers were concerned the way the law is written meant that a change in NSG rules would force a change in U.S. law, a U.S. official said.

(Additional reporting by Nita Bhalla in New Delhi)