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India targeting Democrats for support

Thrust of the campaign is to persuade Bill and Hillary Clinton to back the deal.

india Updated: Apr 30, 2006 12:47 IST

With less than a month left before the US Congress goes in for the summer recess, India has stepped up its diplomacy to win over Democratic sceptics to support the civil nuclear deal that is at the heart of improving relations between New Delhi and Washington.

"We are trying to reach out to key Democrats and explain to them the benefits of the deal to both sides," a key figure in the government who recently returned from the US said.

"We are roping in the influential Indian community in the US to lobby hard for the deal and get the message out that if they don't support the deal, it may strain their relations with Indian Americans," the source said.

"In fact, the Indian community in Washington is planning to boycott major Democratic fundraisers if the Democrats choose to sit on the fence rather than come out openly in support of the deal," the source added.

Only about half a dozen Congressmen, all Republicans, have co-sponsored legislation to amend the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to provide an India-specific exemption to facilitate civil nuclear commerce with India.

None of the influential Democrats have lent their names as co-sponsors to the proposed legislation. In a major disappointment to the Indian community in the US, who have raised thousands of dollars for her election campaign, Hillary Rodham Clinton, co-chair of the Friends of India Caucus in the US Senate, has yet to express her support for the nuclear deal.

The thrust of the Indian campaign on Capitol Hill is to target former US President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, a likely contender for the 2008 presidential elections, and persuade them to back the deal.

"If we can get Bill Clinton to support the deal, the rest of the Democrats won't be such a problem," another knowledgeable source said.

With very little time left before Congress goes in for the summer recess, the Indian American community in Washington has further intensified its lobbying to win support for the deal by bombarding key Congressmen with letters, e-mails and faxes.

In a recent interview, Congressman Frank Pallone (New Jersey-Democrat) has accused the White House of not doing enough to sell the deal to Democrats. If Indian Americans make extra efforts to reach out to Democrats, it will certainly help, said the source.

Only a handful of Democratic Congressmen like Gary Ackerman and Joe Crowley have taken to the floor of the House of Representatives and spoken out in support of the deal. The India Caucus, which has close to 200 members now, is the largest single caucus on any single country on Capitol Hill.

Not only that, a dozen India Caucus members have signed the legislation introduced by Congressman Ed Markey (Massachusetts Democrat) and Congressman Fred Upton (Michigan Republican), opposing the deal.

During his visit to Washington in early April, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran met Senators Joe Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and rising star Barack Obama of Illinois and made a strong pitch for the deal. They gave him a patient hearting, but no assurances, official sources said.