On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed overwhelming, 359 to 68, a bill that sets out procedures for nuclear trade with India (the link includes the House floor debate and the text of the bill, about a third of way down). It is an entirely different bill than that proposed by the White House. The White House’s suggested bill was an insult to Congress, essentially asking Congress to cede any review rights and to approve details of the nuclear deal that haven’t even been decided yet. Whatever members of Congress thought about the India-US nuclear deal, they were not going to just leave the rubber stamp on the White House steps. The House bill, H.R. 5682, clearly rebukes the President on his request for pre-approval. The ultimate details of any agreement will have to go back to Congress for approval by joint resolution.
The bill seems to require action by India in several important areas but closer reading reveals that there is more bark than bite. The introduction, Section 2, includes a series of “Sense of the Congress” statements saying, among other things, that non-proliferation is one of the nation’s most important goals and the NPT is central to non-proliferation, as though just saying that will mean this bill does not undermine the NPT. At least this language gets the bill’s spnsors on the record saying the NPT is worth supporting.
Section 3 contains “Statements of Policy,” some of which are good, such as working toward a fissile material cutoff treaty that will include India, Pakistan, China, and the United States. Another calls for “…India’s full and active participation in United States efforts to dissuade, isolate, and, if necessary, sanction and contain Iran or its efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, including a nuclear weapons capability including the capability to enrich or process nuclear materials…” But the emphasis here should be on “statements,” not on “policy” because there is nothing in the subsequent text that creates or modifies US policy to reflect these statements.. For example, what happens if India does not support us against Iran? Well, the Congress is on record that that is important so it can refuse to approve any subsequent nuclear trade deal but the bill does not make that automatic. The most the bill requires is that the President submit an annual report on progress toward meeting the stated goals. This is a list of the nice-to-have, it is not a set of requirement laid out in law.
Section 4 is the heart of the bill, identifying the conditions under which the President can waive the restrictions of the Atomic Energy Act. There are some meaningful constraints here. For example, the President has to make a determination that India is working in good faith and making good progress toward implementing the Additional Protocols of the IAEA. . But the rest of the section contains little of real consequence. There follows in section 4(c) a long list of provisions that seem at first to be constraints on India but are, in fact, just a list of subjects that must be covered in a report from the President to Congress.
The Federation still does not support this bill because we feel it seriously undermines the the Non-proliferation Treaty, as I have written in other blog entries. But it is a vast improvement over the Administration’s proposed bill that now seems not just dead but well buried. It is important to keep in mind that this bill does not approve a nuclear deal with India. It certainly does not block a deal but it sets up the context for how an eventual nuclear technology trade agreement will be evaluated. Next I will include some discussion on the floor debate in the House.